Vancouver Coastal Health is striving to stamp out HIV in the Sea to Sky Corridor and Lower Mainland.
In partnership with the Providence Health Care, the health authority launched an awareness movement last week, aimed at increasing HIV testing rates by 37 per cent. Change HIVstory pushes for people to make HIV testing a part of their routine health care, Dr. Reka Gustafson, Vancouver Coastal Health’s medical director of communicable disease control, said in a statement.
“We are getting closer to making the end of HIV a reality,” he said.
The authority made history in June, when St. Paul’s Hospital was the first emergency department in Canada to offer routine HIV testing to every patient, stated Scott Harrison, Providence Health Care’s program director of urban health and HIV/AIDS. In the Lower Mainland, 40 per cent of people infected with the virus are diagnosed late with advanced HIV.
“By diagnosing people earlier, we can link them to treatment sooner, ensuring optimal health outcomes for infected individuals and greatly reducing the likelihood of transmission to those not infected,” Harrison said.
Treatment has dramatically changed over the past 20 years, stated Dr. Julio Montaner, a world-renowned HIV expert who works at St. Paul’s. Stopping HIV in its tracks is possible, especially since the development of Highly Active Anti-retroviral Therapy (HAART) — which is free for all B.C. residents.
“If we stop the transmission, we can stop the disease,” Montaner said. “The world agrees, this is the way forward — changing history is this simple.”
A person with the virus who takes prescribed medication is 96 per cent less likely to transmit the disease. It is estimated there are approximately 3,500 people in the province infected with HIV, but who don’t know it.