A pilot program will get underway shortly in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and Prince George to seek and treat vulnerable populations who are either undiagnosed or untreated for HIV.
The 4-year, $48-million pilot called Seek and Treat is the first of its kind in Canada and believed to be the first internationally. It will expand access to HIV/AIDS medications among hard-to-reach populations, including sex-trade workers, injection drug users, and men who have sex with men.
By reaching and engaging more British Columbians living with HIV/AIDS in highly active anti-retroviral therapy (HAART), not only will better care be provided but the treatment will also significantly reduce or eliminate the virus’s ability to spread.
Northern Health, Vancouver Coastal Health, and Providence Health Care will lead the regional implementation of the pilot with support from the Provincial Health Services Authority, including the BC Centre for Disease Control, under the leadership of the Dr Julio Montaner, director of the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS.
For British Columbians who know they have HIV/AIDS and are connected to the health care system, accessing HAART is relatively straightforward and can have extremely positive outcomes. However, there is a large segment of the at-risk population who are not connected to the health system, and Seek and Treat aims to go out, diagnose, support, and provide treatment to those who are medically eligible where possible.
It is estimated that more than 12000 people in BC are living with HIV, and about 27% of these individuals remain undiagnosed. Mathematical modeling suggests that this pilot project in these two regions could avert as many as 173 HIV infections in the first 5 years, which in turn, represents about $65 million in avoided lifetime HIV treatment costs alone.
HAART is available free of charge to all HIV-infected BC residents through the BC Centre for Excellence. For patients, HAART treatment prevents virus replication, slows disease progression, extends life expectancy, and significantly reduces the number of new HIV-related diseases and AIDS-related deaths.
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