BC Hospitals Begin Routine Testing for HIV to Help Curb Global Epidemic
Vancouver, September 23, 2011 — Vancouver Coastal Health and Providence Health Care are taking the fight against HIV/AIDS, one of the biggest global health epidemics of our generation, to a new level by launching a pilot project in which most hospital patients who consent will be routinely offered a test for the infection.
There are an estimated 3,500 people living in BC who are not aware they are HIV positive. Routinely offering tests in hospitals will help diagnose some of these people and enable them to begin treatment which will prolong and improve their lives, and reduce transmission to others.
This approach to HIV testing has already been incorporated into routine care for all pregnant women in BC for many years. Most women are at low risk, but this form of routine testing has virtually eliminated mother-to-child transmission of HIV.
Beginning October 3, physicians will offer the test to all patients being admitted to St. Paul’s and Mount Saint Joseph hospitals when they have their other bloodwork done. Testing will be offered to patients upon admission to Vancouver General starting in November and at UBC hospital in 2012.
Patients who test positive for HIV will be supported with appropriate care and treatment.
Test results are stored in a confidential computer information system and only health care staff directly involved in the care of a patient may access the patient’s information. As with all medical tests, the patient has the right to refuse an HIV test and only those patients able to make a decision on their own, will be offered one.
This pilot project will end in March 2013, at which time the results will be evaluated to determine whether to continue and possibly expand the project.
The pilot is a component of a larger provincial STOP HIV/AIDS pilot program (Seek and Treat for Optimal Prevention of HIV/AIDS) a four-year, $48-million program funded by the Ministry of Health to improve access to HIV testing, treatment, and support services in Vancouver and Prince George.
Dr. Julio Montaner, Director, British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS at St. Paul’s Hospital; Lead, STOP HIV/AIDS pilot program; Past-President, International AIDS Society
“Still today HIV infection is not being diagnosed early enough. This is a serious issue as it can lead to fully preventable morbidity, mortality and HIV transmission. Given the remarkable efficacy of Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy (HAART), it’s more important than ever for people to be diagnosed and access treatment as early as possible. We now know that HAART is the most effective means of stopping disease progression, and at the same time preventing HIV transmission. The unwavering support of the HAART expansion strategy by the Provincial Government has allowed us to bring HIV mortality and HIV transmission to an all time low in 2010. Indeed, BC leads Canada in this regard. The expansion of HIV testing launched today by VCH and PHC represents yet another fundamental step towards the control of HIV in BC.”
Dr. Patricia Daly, Chief Medical Health Officer and Vice President, Public Health, Vancouver Coastal Health
“Evidence shows that most people newly diagnosed with HIV have had many missed opportunities in health care for diagnosis. We can’t stress enough how very crucial early treatment is. While HIV is a chronic infection, early treatment prolongs and improves people’s lives.”
Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a virus that attacks the immune system, resulting in a chronic illness. HIV can lead to Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) when the immune system can no longer fight infection. HIV can spread from one person to another during unprotected sex (vaginal, anal, oral) or by blood contact (such as sharing needles) with someone who has HIV.
All individuals who are sexually active are at some risk of HIV infection.
People with HIV often have no symptoms for many years. During this time, a patient’s health may be deteriorating without their knowledge and they could be infecting others.
According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), preventing infections also saves money — about $367,000 in lifetime medical costs per patient. A CDC study found that patients with HIV who were diagnosed early in the course of their disease cost $27,000 to $61,000 less to treat than those diagnosed once the disease was more advanced.
Health Authority information
VCH is responsible for the delivery of $2.9 billion in community, hospital and residential care to more than one million people in communities, including Richmond, Vancouver, the North Shore, Sunshine Coast, Sea to Sky corridor, Powell River, Bella Bella and Bella Coola.
Providence Health Care is one of Canada's largest faith-based health care organizations, operating 15 facilities within Vancouver Coastal Health. Guided by the principle “How you want to be treated,” PHC's 1,200 physicians, 6,000 staff and 1,500 volunteers deliver compassionate care to patients and residents in British Columbia. Providence’s programs and services span the complete continuum of care and serve people throughout B.C. PHC operates one of two adult academic health science centres in the province, performs cutting-edge research in more than 30 clinical specialties, and focuses its services on six “populations of emphasis”: cardiopulmonary risks and illnesses, HIV/AIDS, mental health, renal risks and illness, specialized needs in aging and urban health.
Tiko Kerr, Vancouver Artist and patient of Dr. Julio Montaner