Vancouver, BC – Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) has seen a 52 per cent decrease in new HIV cases since 2011, and is on track this year to having the lowest number of cases since HIV became reportable (in 2003). On this National HIV Testing Day, doctors are urging people to get tested to further decrease the number of new infections.
In 2018, 86 people in the VCH region were diagnosed with HIV, down from 178 new cases in 2011. This year, new infections are trending even further downward with 26 new cases as of June 17.
"This is so encouraging to see," says Dr. John Harding, VCH Medical Health Officer. "It shows that our public health approach, including the STOP HIV/AIDS program, BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS's Treatment as Prevention strategy, both made–in-B.C. solutions, are working."
The theme for this year's National HIV Testing Day is "Know Your Status". VCH doctors recommend that anyone who is sexually active get tested annually.
"When VCH and Providence Health Care embarked on the provincial STOP HIV/AIDS program in 2009, one in five Canadians living with HIV were estimated to be unaware that they have HIV, and we saw too many people newly diagnosed with HIV already in the advanced stages of disease," said Dr. Harding. "Today in our region, people are being diagnosed and linked to care earlier, which can prolong and improve people's lives, as well as reduce transmission to others".
The made-in-B.C. STOP HIV/AIDS initiative includes outreach to marginalized groups; expanding access to early testing to diagnose those living with HIV in order to improve health outcomes and reduce transmission; and immediate and universal access to antiretroviral therapy for all who are diagnosed HIV positive.
To protect those at highest-risk of acquiring HIV in B.C., government expanded access to pre-exposure prophylaxis and post-exposure prophylaxis in 2018 – a preventive treatment (pharmaceutical name PrEP) now available at no cost through the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS to eligible individuals including men who have sex with men, transgender women, and any other people with ongoing relationships with HIV-positive sex partners who are not on regular HIV medication or have a low viral load, and people who share drug use equipment with a partner known to be living with HIV.
People can get tested for HIV in a variety of locations including primary care providers (family doctors), walk-in clinics, and hospitals.
Vancouver Coastal Health is responsible for the delivery of $3.3 billion in community, hospital and residential care to more than one million people in communities including Richmond, Vancouver, the North Shore, Sunshine Coast, Sea to Sky corridor, Powell River, Bella Bella and Bella Coola. VCH also provides highly specialized care and services for people throughout BC, and is the province's hub of health care education and research.