On World AIDS Day, Dec. 1, B.C.’s minister of health noted there are record-low cases of HIV and AIDS as the crisis transitions from epidemic to chronic disease management.
“As we commemorate World AIDS Day, it’s important to look to the progress we have made against a formidable disease,” Dix said in a press release. “With the success of the Treatment as Prevention strategy (TasP), B.C. is seen as having the world’s gold standard to profoundly reduce HIV transmission and transition the crisis from a serious epidemic to a manageable chronic disease.”
The B.C. government has long been a pioneer in addressing the health of people with HIV and AIDS by offering the groundbreaking TasP, developed by the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS (BCCfE).
“Since the first AIDS patients presented to St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver — struggling against stigma and marginalization – community, researchers and clinicians worked tirelessly to advance evidence-based research to inform B.C.’s HIV treatment policies,” said Dr. Julio Montaner, executive director and physician-in-chief, BCCfE. “This included pioneering effective treatment and supporting widespread availability of antiretroviral therapy. We are now reaping the rewards of this province’s continued commitment to provide the best possible treatment and care for those living with HIV as we set a standard for the rest of the world.”
The overall number of new HIV infections in B.C. is continuing to decline. In 2018, there were 205 cases, a steady decline from 437 cases in 2004.
“Since the turn of the century, we’ve made incredible progress in our fight against HIV and AIDS,” says Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer. “Research conducted by Dr. Julio Montaner and his team at the BCCfE has accelerated our efforts to reduce the impacts of what was once a death sentence, and this work has been crucial to the progress of not only our provincial efforts, but efforts around the world to end HIV and AIDS.”
To further advance the goal of eventually eliminating the disease, the BCCfE has established a research laboratory at 647 Powell St. in Vancouver to support ongoing HIV/AIDS research for people living in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and beyond. Together with other programs of the BCCfE, this new laboratory works to support people living with HIV/AIDS, while also collecting vital research to establish innovative new techniques to eliminate the disease.
Helping to prevent the transmission of HIV, government expanded public funding for pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) on Jan. 1, 2018. As a result, approximately 4,500 people at higher risk of HIV infection have qualified for coverage of this potentially lifesaving treatment, adding a new resource to the centre’s TasP. This is an increase from 2,000 in June 2018 and 3,300 in March 2019.
The Province’s STOP HIV/AIDS program receives approximately $20 million of annual funding. Seperately, government supports a three-year, $322-million contract with the BCCfE for the delivery of the HIV Drug Treatment Program, including HIV PrEP.
Today there are an estimated 7,271 British Columbians living with HIV. Since introducing pre-highly active antiretroviral therapy, the number of annual cases of HIV has dropped from nearly 900 new cases to approximately 200.
B.C. is the only province in Canada to implement the made-in-B.C. TasP strategy, pioneered by the BCCfE, and the only province to see a consistent decline in new HIV cases.
Additionally, the B.C. TasP strategy has been adopted by China, Brazil and Panama, among many others worldwide.
Research by the BCCfE shows gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men are disproportionately affected by the HIV epidemic and that PrEP is a daily oral antiretroviral medication that is highly effective in reducing new cases of HIV.