Report shows drop in HIV transmission rates in BC
Vancouver Island Health Authority has been providing clean needles in Nanaimo
A report that shows a drop in HIV transmission among injection drug users in B.C. is further evidence of the need to expand harm reduction programs, say health officials.
There were 64 new cases of HIV reported among injection drug users in 2009, compared to 137 in 2000, according to the report by the provincial health officer. It attributes the drop to drug therapy programs, harm-reduction strategies and other projects to help treat at-risk populations.
The Vancouver Island Health Authority began providing clean needles and other drug paraphernalia at front-line health care centres in Nanaimo last year in the hopes of reducing a potential spike in disease among central Vancouver Island residents.
Although the rate of people suffering with Hepatitis C in the region is the same as the South Island and Vancouver, the local rate for HIV infection is much lower than these larger centres.
Studies have shown that there is a window of about 3.5 years between the time people contract Hepatitis C and the time they contract HIV, if a person continues risky behaviours.
Andrea Langlois, with AIDS Vancouver Island, said the report highlights the benefits of harm reduction strategies. Although many programs -- such as needle exchanges -- have already been implemented, more work needs to be done.
"If we look at drug use from a public health perspective, we're going to see that implementing more of these programs and addressing the health care needs of people using these drugs is better for all of our communities as well as the individuals being treated," she said.
VIHA medical health officer Dr. Charmaine Enns said more work is also needed to make harm-reduction tools, such as clean needles, accessible on the Island. Additional education around harm reduction strategies may be required as well. "I think some people are still scared of the words harm reduction."
The report also cited the Highly Active Anti-retroviral Therapy as contributing to the drop. This program involves a drug cocktail that slows the reproduction of the virus in patients and lowers their viral load. This makes the patients significantly less likely to transmit the virus.
An increase in people smoking crack and fewer young injection-drug users could be behind the drop in infection rates as well, the report said. Dr. Perry Kendall, provincial health officer, said the report is proof that harm reduction and HAART therapies should be expanded.
The Public Health Agency of Canada estimates that in 2008 there were 3,760 HIV-positive injection drug users in B.C.