Think back to the 1980s. Dire Straits was playing on the turntable or cassette deck; San Francisco 49ers won the Super Bowl; and Coca Cola introduced “New Coke.” And we became more aware that people were dying of a new disease: AIDS.
Few in 1985 could imagine the progress we have made on the HIV/AIDS front since that time. And British Columbia has been at the forefront of much of these gains.
In 2009 pilot projects in Vancouver and Prince George were introduced to explore a new strategy against HIV/AIDS. Called STOP HIV/AIDS (Seek and Treat for Optimal Prevention of HIV/AIDS), the projects brought together innovative new methods for testing, diagnosing and treating the disease. This led to more people accepting treatment and a reduction in rates of infection and disease. The natural next step for this proven strategy is expansion of the program across the province.
A central idea for the pilots was devised by the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS. Called TasP (Treatment as Prevention), the strategy has proven its potential to alter the epidemic. Underlying the concept of TasP is that drug treatment lowers the amount of virus in the body, thus improving the health of those on treatment, lowering the amount of virus in the community and preventing new HIV infections over the long term. TasP has been endorsed internationally by UNAIDS and adopted by other jurisdictions including the United States and China.
There are five goals in the expansion of STOP HIV/AIDS around BC. First is to reduce the number of new HIV infections in British Columbia using health promotion, HIV prevention, and enhanced testing and care, all in support of reducing transmissions.
Goal 2 is to improve the quality, effectiveness and reach of HIV prevention services. Third comes improving diagnosis of those living with HIV as early as possible in the course of their infection.
Improving the quality and reach of HIV support services for those living with and vulnerable to HIV makes up the next goal. This means augmenting existing systems and supporting collaboration among all involved in the fight so that the necessary treatment and support reaches those who need it.
Reducing the burden of advanced HIV infection on the health system is goal 5. We will use the necessary resources to provide the best outcomes and to avert costs associated with missed opportunities for prevention and diagnosis.
The mission of incorporating TasP across BC is based on a supportive environment of compassion and informed consent through continued prevention activities such as building resilience, education and harm reduction. Enhancing the reach of HIV testing and care are important components, as is HAART (Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy). Success will mean fewer people will contract HIV and few of those living with HIV will see their infection progress.
We believe that an AIDS-free generation is not only possible, but entirely plausible.
Dr. Paul Martiquet is the Medical Health Officer for Rural Vancouver Coastal Health including Powell River, the Sunshine Coast, Sea-to-Sky, Bella Bella and Bella Coola.