More treatment, fewer HIV infections

From Canada.com

If more people with HIV could be persuaded to undergo treatment, it probably would result in a dramatic drop in the number of new infections, according to a study conducted by the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS.

The research, published in the British Medical Journal, is being watched carefully by AIDS Vancouver Island and doctors in Victoria, who would like to see the city included in spinoff pilot projects.

So far, Prince George and Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside are the only communities chosen for ongoing studies.

Executive director Katrina Jensen said AIDS Vancouver Island is hoping to get funding for a pilot project to increase treatment rates among clients.

Those who are unaware that they’re HIV-positive tend to drive the epidemic. But the new research indicates that those who know about their condition but aren’t being treated are also spreading the disease, even if they practise safe sex and safe needle-injection methods.

The study suggests treatment radically decreases the amount of virus in the bloodstream. That, in turn, might reduce the propensity of patients to transmit it.

Of the 12,000 people in B.C. diagnosed as HIV-positive, only 5,000 or about 40% are being treated. Those figures that don’t take into account HIV-positive people who have not been tested.

“The goal is to try and bump that up to 8,000 people,” said Andrea Langlois, AVI communications co-ordinator.

Jensen said it’s estimated that if treatment rates could be increased to 75%, it could reduce new HIV infections by more than 30% and thereby cut health-care costs.

“The direct health-care cost of one case of HIV is between $200,000 and $250,000,” she said.

Dr. Chris Fraser, Cool Aid Community Health Centre medical director, said too many people wait until they are sick before being treated, in the mistaken belief that the process is complicated and invasive.

Treatment methods have changed dramatically in recent years and side effects can almost always be managed, Fraser said.

“For many people, it’s as simple as one pill taken once daily,” he said.

Fraser said the news that treatment could slow the spread of the virus could be an extra incentive when medical staff work to encourage HIV-positive patients to avail themselves of it.

The two highest-risk groups are injection drug users and men who have sex with men, he said.

“We’re getting 40 to 60 new cases a year, and those are the ones getting tested.”

Fraser is hoping the new Access Health Centre on Johnson Street will minimize the drop-out rate by providing flexible, readily accessible services.

In late September, AVI and Cool Aid Health Services are expected to move into the new centre where support, mental-health and addictions treatment, and medical care will be available in the same building.


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