BC HIV transmission decline unique in Canada, expert says
British Columbia is the only part of Canada where transmission of HIV is declining, a medical expert told a Victoria audience Wednesday.
Dr. Julio Montaner, director for the BC Centre for Excellence, past-president of the International AIDS Society and professor of AIDS medicine at the University of BC, noted that every other part of Canada is showing an increase.
Montaner credited the province's widespread commitment to early treatment with anti-AIDS drugs for the decline.
In a lecture arranged by the charity AIDS Vancouver Island, Montaner said research shows the antiHIV drugs, which came onstream in 1996, reduce the amount of the AIDS virus that patients carry in their systems, often to undetectable levels.
"We transformed HIV infection into a long-term, manageable condition," he said. With less virus in people's bodies, there is less virus to pass on and infect others. The result is a steadily declining transmission rate, a steadily declining death rate and a steadily declining number of new cases.
"The more you treat, the more you prevent," Montaner said. "The faster the treatment, the better the prevention."
Montaner said his work has been published and written about in scientific journals and the mainstream media. But when he has presented his findings to other provinces and the federal government he has been met with a near total lack of interest, he said.
"They look at it and they say 'Very Interesting,' and then they just put it off," said Montaner. "The data I have should ignite anger."
He was especially critical of the federal government, which, he said, has not only mostly ignored his findings, but has tried to put a stop to his work.
Montaner pointed to the federal government's court challenge, now before the Supreme Court of Canada, to the operation of INSITE, the safe injection site in for illegal drugs in Vancouver.
It is a move that flies in the face of provincial court rulings, provincial government support, local police approval and demonstrable improvements in public health, such as a 35 per cent reduction in fatal overdoses, he said.
"Why is the federal government trying to sabotage my work?" Montaner asked. "They have a moralistic attitude and they are ignoring the science. They [the federal Conservatives] have a fundamental problem with the groups who are at high risk of acquiring HIV -gays and drug addicts."
Montaner said in 2009, while he was still president of the International AIDS Society, he was invited to the White House three times. Not once was he invited to Ottawa.
Last year in Canada, Montaner was presented with the Prix Galien award for work in the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of disease. But at the presentation, federal health minister Leona Aglukkaq arrived late and did not even shake his hand, Montaner said.
In contrast, the Chinese government and even the Vatican have taken an interest in BC's approach of treatment as prevention, and are beginning to implement or support it.
The BC government has been unflagging in its support and determination to get ahead of the AIDS epidemic. That determination has never wavered whether the party in charge was B.C. Liberal, New Democrat or Social Credit, he said.