Innovative B.C. initiative to combat HIV/AIDS receives international funding
Vancouver, B.C. [June 6, 2013] — Dr. Julio Montaner has been awarded a $2.5 million Research Award over five years from the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) to support his continued research on British Columbia’s STOP HIV/AIDS initiative. This is in follow up to an earlier $2.5 million over five years Avant-Garde Award that supported the research associated with the recently completed BC STOP HIV/AIDS pilot project. Dr. Montaner was an inaugural recipient of NIDA’s Avant-Garde Award Program for HIV/AIDS Research in 2008.
The new research award will support further studies that will lead to new avenues for prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS. Pioneered by Dr. Montaner, director of the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS (BC-CfE), the Seek and Treat for Optimal Prevention of HIV/AIDS (STOP HIV/AIDS) pilot was launched in 2009 to determine if offering widespread HIV testing, treatment and earlier engagement into care could reduce morbidity, mortality and HIV transmission. Following its success as a pilot, the government of B.C. recently committed $19.9 million in annual funding to roll out the initiative across the province, and NIDA’s support will further advance the research.
“B.C.’s innovative strategy to fight HIV/AIDS has attracted international recognition, and crucially, ongoing support from our international partners at NIDA,” said Premier Christy Clark. “Dr. Montaner and his team are at the forefront of the effort to fight HIV and AIDS—not just in B.C., but around the world.”
The initial four-year, $48-million pilot began in Vancouver’s inner city and Prince George as part of the Treatment as Prevention strategy. Pioneered by the BC-CfE, the strategy has led to a marked decrease in morbidity, mortality and new HIV cases. At the height of the epidemic in the early 1990s, the number of new HIV diagnoses was more than 800 a year. In 2012, the number of new HIV diagnoses had dropped to 238, and HIV-related morbidity and mortality has decreased by approximately 90 per cent over the same period. As the only province to implement the Treatment as Prevention strategy, B.C. stands alone as the sole province to show a consistent decline in new HIV diagnoses.
“NIDA should be commended for their leadership in supporting progressive research efforts to further the fight against HIV/AIDS, particularly among hard to reach populations,” said Dr. Montaner. “Clearly, the world is watching closely as B.C. continues to lead in innovative approaches and make significant advances towards the goal of an HIV & AIDS-free generation.”
“The STOP HIV/AIDS initiative provides compelling evidence that Treatment as Prevention, when implemented without discrimination for drug abusers, can curb the spread of HIV,” said NIDA director Dr. Nora D. Volkow. “This is the type of high-impact research NIDA's Avant-Garde program was designed to support. Dr. Montaner and his team should be commended for their success at putting evidence into action. The implications for public health are enormous.”
The province-wide expansion of STOP HIV/AIDS began April 1, 2013. The BC-CfE will continue to monitor and evaluate the progress of the program.
What is Treatment as Prevention?
The Treatment as Prevention strategy has been pioneered by BC-CfE’s Dr. Julio Montaner. It involves widespread HIV testing and immediate provision of anti-HIV drugs known as HAART to medically eligible people with HIV. The BC-CfE has demonstrated that the benefits of early HAART treatment are twofold: it reduces the level of HIV in the blood to undetectable levels thus improving the health of people with HIV, and decreases the level of HIV in sexual fluids to undetectable levels thus reducing the likelihood of HIV transmission by more than 95 per cent. In 2009, the BC government invested $48 million over four years in the BC-CfE-led Seek and Treat for Optimal Prevention of HIV/AIDS (STOP HIV/AIDS) pilot project. The intent of the pilot was to expand HIV testing and treatment among hard-to-reach populations such as injection drug users in Vancouver’s inner city and Prince George. The success of the pilot led to the Ministry of Health announcing in 2012 the provincial roll out of the initiative.
Treatment as Prevention is internationally recognized by organizations such as the World Health Organization, International AIDS Society and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS). Treatment as Prevention has been endorsed by U.S. President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former U.S. President Bill Clinton as an effective strategy in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
About the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS
The BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS (BC-CfE) is Canada’s largest HIV/AIDS research, treatment and education facility and is internationally recognized as an innovative world leader in combating HIV/AIDS and related diseases. BC-CfE is based at St. Paul’s Hospital, Providence Health Care, a teaching hospital of the University of British Columbia. The BC-CfE works in close collaboration with key provincial stakeholders, including health authorities, health care providers, academics from other institutions, and the community to decrease the health burden of HIV and AIDS. By developing, monitoring and disseminating comprehensive research and treatment programs for HIV and related illnesses, the BC-CfE helps improve the health of British Columbians living with HIV.
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Providence Health Care President and CEO Dianne Doyle