A locally developed HIV treatment has been named the 2011 breakthrough of the year by Science Magazine.
The ‘treatment as prevention’ strategy, pioneered by the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, involves widespread testing and use of anti-HIV drugs known as highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) to thwart the virus in HIV-positive patients.
Research has shown that HAART reduces the likelihood of HIV transmission by 95 per cent.
“No other strategy has been able to give us a means to control HIV that comes even close to treatment as prevention,” said Julio Montaner, director of the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS. “It is highly effective, but at the same time it stops people from dying, stops people from getting sick, and stops people from going to the hospital.”
According to Montaner, the statistics speak for themselves.
In B.C. between 1996 and 1998, there was an 85 per cent reduction in morality rates among people engaged in the treatment, a 40 per cent decrease in the number of new infections. It was also 90 per cent more effective at stopping the transmission of HIV among injection drug users.
The strategy was also named the medical breakthrough for 2012 by Reader’s Digest and recognized as one of the top-10 medical breakthroughs by Time Magazine.
China has implemented a national HIV/AIDS policy based on B.C.’s strategy. Local health authorities in San Francisco, the Bronx in New York, and Washington are also evaluating similar programs.
However, Montaner expressed frustration with the Canadian government’s lack of support for the program.
“We’re very disappointed that the Public Health Agency of Canada, the minister of health, or the prime minister himself haven’t been willing to seriously consider this strategy for Canada,” he said.
“If we give the treatment that is so much needed by people infected with HIV not only do we solve the problem but we survive the problem,” said Montaner.
There are currently 65,000 Canadians are living with HIV/AIDS.