HIV and AIDS: then and now
Canada’s leading AIDS research centre is marking 20 years of pioneering lifesaving breakthroughs as it changes the face of HIV and AIDS in BC and the rest of the world.
Dr. Julio Montaner, director of the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS (BC-CfE) at St. Paul’s Hospital, says the centre has been at the forefront in revolutionizing the management of the disease since it opened March 16, 1992.
The state of HIV-AIDS treatment and research in the province today is a far cry from the dark and difficult days of late 1980s and early 1990s, he says.
“While St. Paul’s took steps to help these people out, the rest of the healthcare community was a bit unwilling to commit to these kinds of services,” Montaner says. “The stigma our patients felt in those days was quite palpable.”
But BC has come a long way.
It is now the only province showing a steady decline in the rate of new HIV diagnoses because of expanded access to treatment.
Montaner, who has helped catapult Canada as a world leader in the fight against HIV-AIDS, says he’s now convinced a generation free of the deadly disease is completely within reach.
He says he is gratified by the worldwide attention given to the centre’s Treatment as Prevention strategy, which recommends universal testing and expanded access to highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) as a tool against the spread of the incurable virus.
“When we came out of the gate with the data to support this strategy in 2005, the initial reaction was skepticism.… There was a lot of reluctancy to embrace it,” Montaner says.
The strategy has since been recognized as one of the top 10 medical breakthroughs by Time magazine and named the medical breakthrough for 2012 by Reader’s Digest.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also endorsed the strategy as a cornerstone approach in the global fight against the disease.
Despite the international recognition, Montaner expressed his frustration with the federal government’s lack of support for the program.
“I continue to hit my head against the wall that separates B.C. and Ottawa because, unfortunately, Stephen Harper and his administration have been continuously reluctant to engage in any discussions that have anything to do with HIV,” he says. “This is short-sided, negligent and costing lives across this country.”
But Montaner says that he and his team won’t back down.
“It’s not going to stop us from doing what is right and from showing the rest of the world and the rest of the country that HIV can be contained. And we will do so.”
The centre is holding an anniversary gala Friday to celebrate 20 years of success.