B.C. launches major campaign to encourage more HIV testing
Published Thursday, July 19, 2012 11:41AM EDT
Last Updated Friday, July 20, 2012 7:24PM EDT
Doctors in British Columbia want to see every person in the province who has ever been sexually active get tested for AIDS. They say it’s the best way to force "the beginning of the end" of AIDS.
To encourage more to find out whether they are positive for the virus, the doctors, with the help of the B.C. Minsitry of Health, have launched a four-year, $48-million program to improve access to HIV testing and treatment.
Doctors from Vancouver Coastal Health and Providence Health Care,say if more people knew they were HIV positive and started taking medications to suppress the virus, the disease could be stopped in its tracks in Canada.
It is estimated there are 3,500 people in British Columbia who are infected with HIV but don’t know it. There are likely thousands more across the country.
Scott Harrison, the program director of urban health and HIV/AIDS at Providence Health Care says that 40 per cent of people infected with HIV in Vancouver are diagnosed late, with advanced HIV disease,.
“By diagnosing people earlier, we can link them to treatment sooner, ensuring optimal health outcomes for infected individuals and greatly reducing the likelihood of transmission to those not infected,” he said in a statement.
HIV expert Dr. Julio Montaner, the director of B.C.’s Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS at St. Paul’s Hospital, notes that an HIV treatment, called Highly Active Anti-retroviral Therapy (HAART), is highly effective at preventing the spread of HIV between people.
HIV positive persons on their prescribed medication are 96 per cent less likely to transmit the disease. And it’s available to all B.C. residents for free. He said if more people were on those meds, the spread of the illness could be halted.
“If we can stop the transmission, we can stop the disease,” he said in a statement.
Dr. Réka Gustafson, medical director of communicable disease control for Vancouver Coastal Health, says the first step is to get people diagnosed.
“If you have HIV and don’t know it, you can’t do anything [to get treated],” she told a news conference Wednesday.
St. Paul’s Hospital was the first emergency department in Canada to offer routine HIV testing to every patient and the practice has now spread across B.C. Those routine tests have shown that about one per cent of those screened test positive.
Most of those infected people have no outward signs of infection and no idea they had been exposed, Dr. Montaner told the news conference. But he said it’s often those who are unknowingly infected who fuel most of the infections in the province.
In order to get more people tested, Vancouver Coastal Health and Providence Health Care have launched a new awareness and social media campaign called CHANGE HIVSTORY.
The campaign features print advertising and TV and radio commercials, as well as a social media campaign that directs people to a website called ItsDifferentNow.org. It urges sexually active people to get the test and dispels still-held notions that AIDS can’t be treated or controlled.