B.C. Welcomes U.S. Commitment to Treatment as Prevention

Victoria, BC — B.C. Premier Christy Clark lauded Hillary Rodham Clinton’s call today for an AIDS-free generation and scaling up a Treatment as Prevention strategy as part of a comprehensive proposal to fight HIV and AIDS.

Premier Clark noted that U.S. Secretary of State Clinton’s strong endorsement of Treatment as Prevention reinforces the success of the strategy pioneered, modelled and proven in British Columbia and now embraced around the world.

“It was British Columbia under the leadership of Dr. Julio Montaner and the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS that put the pieces of the puzzle together to realize that expanded treatment could prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS,” said Premier Clark. “We are proud to be able to share this effective treatment against the spread of HIV/AIDS with Canada and the world, and look forward to its increased implementation globally resulting from Hillary Clinton’s announcement this morning.”

Thirty years of leading-edge research in B.C. has helped turn HIV/AIDS from what was once a deadly epidemic into a chronic but manageable condition. More than 15 years ago, the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS (BC-CfE), a program at St. Paul’s Hospital, played the key role in the discovery and implementation of highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART), the landmark drug cocktail that has been adopted in Canada and around the world as the gold standard of treatment for HIV/AIDS.

Since 1996, HAART has been available free of charge to residents with HIV/AIDS in British Columbia. As a result, B.C. has experienced a dramatic decrease in AIDS-related morbidity and mortality, as well as a dramatic reduction in new HIV diagnoses. In fact, as a result of Treatment as Prevention, B.C. is the only province in Canada that is demonstrating a consistent decline in HIV.

“Secretary Clinton’s call to scale up access to HAART treatment around the world marks another key milestone in the global fight against HIV, and reinforces the success of B.C.’s decision to invest in HIV research, treatment and care,” said Dr. Julio Montaner, director, BC-CfE. “B.C.’s success in combating HIV and AIDS and the leadership position we have today would not be possible without the significant and ongoing support from the B.C. government.”

“It stepped up to fund the pioneering work done in British Columbia and the breakthroughs associated with HAART and the Treatment as Prevention strategy. Today, millions of people around the world directly benefit from this research.”

Starting in the early-2000s, the BC-CfE pioneered the Treatment as Prevention strategy, which promotes increased testing and facilitates access to antiretroviral treatment for all medically eligible HIV-positive people, to stop the progression of HIV infection to AIDS or death and simultaneously halt the spread of HIV and AIDS.

In 2010, the B.C. provincial government announced an investment of $48 million over four years in a BC-CfE-led Treatment as Prevention pilot project called Seek and Treat for Optimal Prevention of HIV/AIDS (STOP HIV/AIDS).

Mathematical modelling suggests that this pilot project in two regions – Vancouver and Prince George – could avert as many as 173 HIV infections in the first five years, which in turn, represents approximately $65 million in avoided lifetime HIV treatment costs alone.

As indicated by today’s White House announcement, the success of the Treatment as Prevention strategy has attracted attention globally.

“The proven success here at home in B.C. and international adoption of the Treatment as Prevention strategy is decreasing HIV/AIDS-related suffering as well as stemming the spread of HIV/AIDS,” said Michael de Jong, B.C. Minister of Health. “The BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, under the leadership of Dr. Montaner, continues to play a crucial leadership role that has turned research into policy and influenced treatment in a manner that is changing the face of HIV/AIDS.”

Treatment as Prevention is recognized and supported internationally by organizations including the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the World Health Organization (WHO). Additionally, China has implemented a national HIV/AIDS policy based on the BC-CfE’s Treatment as Prevention strategy. Similar programs are currently under evaluation by local health authorities in San Francisco, the Bronx in New York, Washington, DC, and by the Clinton Health Initiative in Swaziland.

In addition to the support provided by the B.C. provincial government, the NIH-based National Institute for Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR) provided funding to help B.C. become the first jurisdiction in the world to incorporate Treatment as Prevention into practice. Partial support has also being provided by Gilead, Merck and ViiV.

In 2009, the WHO estimated that there are 33.4 million people worldwide living with HIV/AIDS, with 2.7 million new HIV infections per year and two million annual deaths due to AIDS.