B.C. government announces provincial expansion of landmark STOP HIV/AIDS pilot program; Next-generation sequencing provides new insights into HIV; CMAJ editorial calls for routine HIV testing for all sexually-active Canadians.
On the eve of World AIDS Day and almost 25 years after being diagnosed with HIV, B.C. resident Walter Hiebert attended the announcement to express his gratitude for receiving timely treatment that saved his life.
Since 2009, Seek and Treat for Optimal Prevention of HIV/AIDS (STOP HIV/AIDS) has been implemented in Vancouver and Prince George, and has been successful in dramatically reducing HIV transmission by ensuring HIV-positive individuals have access to the best possible care and treatment.
At a news conference on November 30 at St. Paul’s Hospital, Health Minister Margaret MacDiarmid and Minister of State for Seniors Ralph Sultan joined BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS’ (BC-CfE) director Dr. Julio Montaner to announce the expansion of the pilot program across B.C.
“An AIDS-free generation is now in our sights,” said Minister MacDiarmid. “I am pleased to announce the provincial expansion of the STOP HIV/AIDS program. 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 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 British Columbians to be treated.
Expansion will be carried out by the province’s health authorities with support and leadership from the BC-CfE, which pioneered the concept of Treatment as Prevention under Dr. Montaner’s guidance. The BC-CfE will also continue to monitor and evaluate the progress of the program.
Dr. Montaner thanked the B.C. government for their ongoing support of this program to eliminate HIV/AIDS in the province. “B.C. is years ahead of the rest of the world in treating HIV/AIDS,” said Dr. Montaner at the news conference. “We have a revolutionary new development in health care, right here. The results we have achieved are quite compelling, and the world is beginning to move [towards our approach]. The times are right.”
B.C. is leading the way in its efforts to combat the epidemic. BC-CfE researchers recently published a new study, which found that B.C. is the only province in Canada showing a consistent decline in new HIV diagnoses, in part due to the widespread availability of free antiretroviral treatment in the province. The study found that new HIV diagnoses in B.C. have dropped from 900 new cases each year in the mid-1990s, to 289 new cases in 2011.
B.C. resident Walter Hiebert can attest to the benefits of treatment. He was diagnosed in 1988 – a time when an HIV diagnosis amounted to a death sentence. In the mid-1990s he was put on highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) by Dr. Montaner. He spoke in support of the government’s announcement at the news conference. “I watched a lot of friends die. If it wasn’t for Dr. Montaner, I wouldn’t be alive today. We live in a province that believes in evidence-based science,” an emotional Hiebert told the audience.
The initial four-year, $48-million STOP HIV/AIDS pilot has allowed health professionals in the pilot areas to identify more people who have HIV/AIDS and enabled more people to be treated with HAART. 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.