Special to the Tribune
Globally, there is good news on in the battle with AIDS.
The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that in 2012, 13 countries, many in the African continent, showed an annual growth in the number of people on anti-retroviral therapy outpacing the number of new HIV infections.
This ‘tipping point’ is a welcome development and an important step toward the ultimate goal of ‘getting to zero’: zero new infections, zero AIDS-related deaths and zero discrimination.
In Canada, there is no comparable statistic available.
There is, however, substantial cause for optimism. New knowledge, and new tools at our disposal, point the way to our ‘getting to zero.’
Newer medications for people living with HIV are easier to take and have fewer side effects, making HIV treatment more manageable and allowing people to have a near-normal life expectancy.
Also, although not yet approved in Canada, medication that an HIV negative person who is at risk of HIV infection from a positive partner can take on a regular basis as a preventative measure (called pre-exposure prophylaxis) holds promise.
We know that diagnosing HIV at an earlier stage has huge potential health outcomes in reducing transmissions.
Researchers estimate that the risk of transmitting HIV to another person from one act of unprotected sex is 26 times higher during the first three months after infection than during the months and years that follow.
Research also indicates that once diagnosed, the vast majority of individuals take steps to avoid infecting others.
We know there is an indisputable link between treatment and prevention.
Staying on anti-HIV drugs so that the viral load (amount of virus in the blood) is fully suppressed greatly lessens the likelihood of HIV being transmitted to a sexual partner or someone who is sharing drug-taking equipment.
Adhering to medications has the potential to bring about very positive results in the overall population.
The thinking is that if you increase the number of HIV-positive people on treatment, you lower the total amount of virus circulating in a community and, ultimately, reduce the number of new HIV infections.
This concept, known as “treatment as prevention,” has been employed in British Columbia where the province has reported reduced incidence rates.