B.C. reports initial success with new HIV–prevention prescription program

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      Prior to the first National HIV Testing Day in Canada held today (June 27), the B.C. Ministry of Health reported preliminary success with an HIV–prevention program launched earlier this year.

      After lobbying from health organizations and LGBT activists, the B.C. government introduced free coverage of HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) on January 1.

      PrEP is a daily oral antiretroviral medication effective in reducing the transmission of HIV while PEP can be taken by an HIV–negative person who may have been exposed to HIV.

      B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix announced on June 26 that over 2,000 British Columbians have since been prescribed this medication, which can save lives. The average age of users of the program is 34 years old, 70 percent live in Metro Vancouver, 73 percent are new, and 99 percent are male.

      B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS (BC-CfE) estimates that when the program reaches 5,000 people, the province will reduce new HIV cases by over 83 percent by 2026.

      B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix

      LGBT British Columbians are disproportionately affected by HIV, with approximately 50 percent of new cases in B.C. being among men who have sex with men, including gay, bisexual, and queer males.

      The expanded coverage for PrEP and PEP is a new resource for the BC-CfE's Treatment as Prevention (TasP), a program initiated by BC-CfE director Dr. Julio Montaner.

      “The work we have done in HIV and AIDS proves the political will and expertise exists in British Columbia to expand the principles of TasP to other contagions,” Dr. Montaner stated in a news release. “This can have an immediate and measurable impact on the treatment and elimination of other high-burden diseases, such as hepatitis C, in British Columbia and across Canada.”

      B.C. is the only province in Canada to use the TasP program and the program has since been adopted other jurisdictions, including Brazil, China, and Panama.

      On World AIDS Day 2017, the BC-CfE announced that B.C. is on track to meet its goal to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic. By 2020, B.C. is anticipated to have 90 percent of its HIV–positive citizens diagnosed, 91 percent on treatment, and 90 percent on treatment that will prevent further transmission.

      As part of a national campaign to raise awareness about HIV, clinics across Canada are participating in the country's inaugural National HIV Testing Day today. Health organizations in Vancouver such as Health Initiative for Men are highlighting their free testing services, in conjunction with a social-media awareness campaign.

      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.