Julio Montaner, B.C. HIV/AIDS doctor, honoured at Canadian Medical Hall of Fame

B.C. doctor Julio Montaner, who has led the fight against HIV/AIDS since the 1980s, will be inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame in Winnipeg on Thursday night.

Vancouver doctor recognized for pioneering treatments for HIV/AIDS, now used around the world

Dr. Julio Montaner has spent decades leading the fight against HIV/AIDS. His many accomplishments include pioneering the highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) , and the model of Treatment as Prevention (TasP).

Dr. Julio Montaner, who leads B.C.'s Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, will be inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame in Winnipeg on Thursday night.

The Vancouver doctor has spent decades leading the fight against HIV/AIDS. His many accomplishments include pioneering the highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) , and the model of Treatment as Prevention (TasP).

That health model is used to decrease the progression of HIV to AIDS and to stop HIV transmission, and last September, the United Nations endorsed Dr. Montaner's TasP plan to eradicate the AIDS pandemic by 2030.

The Early Edition's Elaine Chau spoke to Dr. Montaner ahead of his induction into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame. This is an edited and condensed version of their conversation.

How did you get started in Vancouver?

I arrived here in 1981 (from Argentina) without really having a clear idea of what I wanted to do.

My goal was to do a post-doctoral fellowship (in respiratory medicine). I worked under Dr. Jim Hogg, who was a fantastic inspiration and a great influence in my thinking.

This is when the AIDS epidemic started, and I got involved with fighting HIV without knowing it. That's because the first symptom was this pneumonia that was killing people left, right and centre. 

Dr. Julio Montaner shakes hands with Dr. Zunyou Wu, director of NCAIDS/China CDC, after signing a memorandum of understanding witnessed by B.C. Premier Christy Clark. (B.C. Government newsroom)

Why did you decide to focus on HIV/AIDS?

I remember still today, my friends telling me, 'Julio, you are making a very dramatic change, I mean you invested all these years into your respiratory medicine credentials and you are now saying you are going to dedicate yourself to the development of anti-retroviral therapy?'

I don't know how this happened, but I had this conviction that was going to be a path to solving the medical challenges of the day.

What does this recognition mean to you?

I'm very grateful for the experience that I have been able to go through in this country. While the awards and recognition can go to my head, I view them as an opportunity to continue to show the work that we do. To show the sacrifices that we have all made, including my patients, to push the knowledge to the level it is today.

Without getting too political about it, despite the success of our work, there are many jurisdictions where we have a lot of difficulty making people who make decisions understand that we are on the right track.

Believe it or not, I think that this type of recognition allows us to stand up tall, and say once again, it's not just me telling you we have a solution. 

To hear more of this story, listen to the audio labelled: Dr. Julio Montaner, 2015 Canadian Medical Hall of Fame inductee.

About the Author

Elaine Chau

Associate Producer for CBC Radio in Vancouver

Elaine Chau was born in Hong Kong, and grew up in Montreal and Vancouver. She is the 2008 recipient of the CBC Radio Peter Gzowski internship, multiple RTDNA winner, and Gold Radio Winner in the Health/Medicine category at the 2011 New York Festivals for her series "AIDS: Then and Now".

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