B.C. rolls out provincial program to combat HIV/AIDS
On the eve of World AIDS Day, Health Minister Margaret MacDiarmid announced $19.9 million in annual funding for the provincial expansion of a successful pilot program that reduces HIV transmission by ensuring those living with HIV have access to the best care and treatment.
“Over the past 30 years, we have turned around a disease that was once an imminent death sentence into a long-term manageable condition,” said MacDiarmid. “As part of our vision for an AIDS-free generation, we are providing $19.9 million in annual funding to health authorities to expand the successful pilot initiatives throughout British Columbia. By reaching and engaging more British Columbians at-risk for or living with HIV/AIDS, not only will better care be provided, the treatment will also significantly reduce the spread of the virus.”
Beginning April 1, 2013, the Seek and Treat for Optimal Prevention of HIV/AIDS (STOP HIV/AIDS) program will allow health professionals and community partners to better engage the broader community and specific at-risk groups in HIV testing, reach more people with HIV/AIDS, and enable more people to be treated.
Some examples of where health authorities could spend the money include: new outreach programs, new HIV testing technologies like rapid point of care testing, additional front line staff or funding for community groups to run prevention, testing, treatment and support programs.
Expansion will be carried out by the province's health authorities with support and leadership from the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS at St. Paul’s Hospital, which pioneered the concept of Treatment as Prevention under the guidance of the centre's director Dr. Julio Montaner. The centre will also continue to monitor and evaluate the progress of the program.
The initial four-year, $48-million pilot started in 2009 in Vancouver and Prince George, and has allowed health professionals in the pilot areas to identify more people that have HIV/AIDS and enabled more people to be treated. In contrast, in non-pilot health authorities, there has been an overall decline in the number of people being diagnosed with HIV and the number of people accessing treatment.
The landmark drug cocktail Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy (HAART), also pioneered by Dr. Montaner and his team at St. Paul’s Hospital in the early 1990s, can reduce the amount of virus in the blood and bodily fluids to undetectable levels, greatly reducing HIV transmission. HIV medications are free of charge to all B.C. residents living with HIV, and HAART has been adopted in Canada and around the world as the gold standard of treatment.
“With the support of the government of B.C., we are leading the way to eliminate HIV/AIDS,” said Dr. Montaner. “We are the only province in Canada showing a consistent decline of new HIV diagnoses, which will continue as a result of the expansion of the STOP HIV/AIDS initiative to the rest of the province. The world is watching closely as B.C. continues to make progress towards the goal of an 'AIDS-Free Generation'.”
In British Columbia, HIV/AIDS-related morbidity and mortality have decreased by over 90 per cent since 1996, as a result of the use of HAART. Over the same period, new HIV infections per year in British Columbia decreased by two-thirds, from 900 in the mid-1990s to 289 in 2011. An estimated 13,000 people in B.C. are living with HIV/AIDS, with as many as 3,500 people still unaware they are living with HIV.
The Treatment as Prevention concept has been endorsed by the World Health Organization, UNAIDS and The Clinton Foundation.
“Offering free treatment for all people diagnosed with HIV will ensure that they can stay healthy and productive. It will also maximize the prevention effects of treatment by significantly reducing the risk of new HIV infections,” said Michel Sidibé, executive director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS). “We applaud the British Columbia government for its support of this pioneering work by the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS.”
In 2011, the UNAIDS estimated that there are 34.2 million people worldwide living with HIV/AIDS, with 2.5 million new HIV infections per year and 1.7 million annual deaths due to AIDS.
Angela White, St. Paul's Hospital Volunteer