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The BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS (BC-CfE) marked December 1, World AIDS Day, by launching a social media campaign that encourages the province’s youth to get tested for HIV and in the process, help end the epidemic.
The campaign calls for sexually active people to ‘Share the Pledge, Take the Test’ by pledging to take a voluntary, confidential HIV test and if they choose, share their pledge with their friends. The campaign promotes the BC-CfE-pioneered Treatment as Prevention strategy as the way towards an AIDS-free generation. The launch includes an interactive website, www.treatmentasprevention.ca, where visitors can pledge to take the HIV test, share their pledge if they wish with friends through Facebook and Twitter, and learn about Treatment as Prevention, HIV and AIDS.
“The Treatment as Prevention campaign is about creating a social movement to stop the spread of HIV,” said Dr. Julio Montaner, director, BC-CfE. “We want to engage people in a dialogue about HIV/AIDS, and provide a venue for them to share their experiences and normalize testing. Testing for HIV is a critical first step to help people stay healthy and prevent further HIV infections in our community and, in the process, help defeat HIV and AIDS.”
The Treatment as Prevention strategy involves widespread HIV testing and administering anti-HIV drugs known as Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy (HAART) to medically eligible individuals who are HIV positive. The benefits of HAART are twofold: it reduces the level of HIV in the blood to undetectable levels, improving the health of people with HIV, while also decreasing the level of HIV in sexual fluids to undetectable levels, reducing the likelihood of HIV transmission by more than 95 per cent.
Montaner marked the launch of the testing campaign by meeting with the community and providing updates on the Treatment as Prevention strategy at local events and through national media interviews. Speaking at the Dr. Peter Centre to a packed house alongside BC Premier Christy Clark and Dr. Peter AIDS Foundation Executive Director Maxine Davis, Montaner noted the key role played by the BC government in generously funding HIV research and care.
He added that Vancouver and BC are now at the forefront of HIV/AIDS innovation, and Treatment as Prevention is endorsed by leading organizations such as the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the Clinton Foundation.
“Treatment as Prevention is the new way forward,” he said. “We need to do it for the good of our children and we can do it.”
Clark agreed. “When you think about the savings for those families whose loved ones are now alive today or who are no longer struggling the way that they did before, it’s incalculable,” she said.
Voluntary, confidential testing for HIV will identify and help people with HIV receive the treatment they require. An approximate 2,500 people in British Columbia from all walks of life, have HIV and are not aware of their status. It is critical that testing be implemented province-wide.
Vancouver Coastal Health and Providence Health Care have also recently launched a comprehensive social marketing campaign called “It’s Different Now” (www.itsdifferentnow.org). The It’s Different Now and Treatment as Prevention campaigns are leading efforts in BC to move HIV testing beyond what are considered at-risk groups and into the mainstream. Only through comprehensive programs that normalize HIV testing for all British Columbians will BC optimize efforts and resources to defeat HIV and reach the goal of an AIDS-free generation.