On World AIDS Day 2017: British Columbia on target to meet goals to help end HIV/AIDS epidemic

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      Although British Columbia once the bore the brunt of the AIDS crisis in Canada, the province is now leading the way with progress in the country. According to the Vancouver-based B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS (BC-CfE), B.C. is on the right path to meet United Nations 90-90-90 goals established to bring an end to the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

      The BC-CfE (which was launched in 1992) estimates that within B.C. by 2020, 90 percent of HIV–positive citizens will be diagnosed, 91 percent of those people will be on treatment, and 90 percent will be on treatment that will prevent any viral infections of others.

      According to 2014 data from the Public Health Agency of Canada, in British Columbia, 80 percent of HIV–positive people were diagnosed, 76 percent were on treatment, and 89 percent were virally suppressed.

      BC-CfE senior statistician and research scientist Dr. Viviane Lima stated in a news release that there hasn't been a baby born HIV–positive since 2008.

      While queer men and MSM (men who have sex with men) continue to represent over 50 percent of HIV infections in B.C., there has been significant progress made for treatment.

      “When it comes to the gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men community—the research finds they are highly likely to be on treatment, and virologically suppressed, meaning HIV cannot be detected in their blood,” Dr. Lima stated. “For a community that has been historically disproportionately impacted by HIV, the meeting of these targets should be acknowledged and celebrated.”

      Dr. Julio Montaner

      BC-CfE director Dr. Julio Montaner (who received the $100,000 Killam Prize this year for his groundbreaking work in the field) pioneered highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART), which is one of the most effective treatments for HIV/AIDS and has become used globally. The BC-CfE distributes HAART at no cost to HIV–positive individuals in B.C. In addition, the province is the only Canadian administrative region that provides laboratory and medical monitoring services as well as universal coverage of fully subsidized treatment.  

      However, there remain several areas in need of improvement, with three main groups of particular concern.

      Women are 30 percent less likely to be on HIV treatment than males and have a 20 percent lower chance of viral suppression compared to males. Challenges that women face include geography, ethnicity, addiction, and treatment-related issues.  

      Injection drug users are 49 percent less likely to be on treatment than others and are 57 percent less likely to achieve viral suppression. Of HIV–positive individuals with a history of injection drug use, 72 percent were on HIV treatment and 78 percent maintained continual viral suppression.

      Also of concern, youth aged 18 to 29 years old were found to be 35 percent less likely than others to be on treatment.

      For World AIDS Day 2017 today (December 1) in Vancouver, a daylong program of events is being held at the Carnegie Centre. Meanwhile, Aboriginal AIDS Awareness Week is being held nationally from today until December 6, with an event to be held on Wednesday (December 6) in Vancouver.

      You can follow Craig Takeuchi on Twitter at @cinecraig or on Facebook. You can also follow the Straight's LGBT coverage on Twitter at @StraightLGBT or on Facebook.