HIV testing to expand in Vancouver hospitals
As many as 3,500 people in B.C. may be unaware they have HIV
British Columbia is moving to make HIV-AIDS testing routine during any hospital visit, leaving the rest of Canada behind when it comes to stomping out the deadly virus.
Vancouver hospitals will soon be asking every patient if they want to be tested for HIV-AIDS. The goal is to catch those people infected early enough to prolong their lives and reduce transmission to others.
The pilot project will test only those who consent, starting Oct. 3 at St. Paul's and Mount Saint Joseph hospitals, at Vancouver General Hospital next month and at the University of B.C. hospital in 2012.
When the project ends in 2013, the results will be evaluated to determine if it should be continued or even expanded. The funding comes from a $48 million program provided by the B.C. Ministry of Health to improves access to HIV testing, treatment and support services.
Friday's announcement is part of the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV-AIDS focus on treatment as prevention. The centre's director, Dr. Julio Montaner, said the program's success speaks through the statistics.
B.C. infection rates dropping
B.C. has had a decrease of 60 per cent in new HIV infection rates since 1996, while every other province has had nothing better than unchanged rates. In Saskatchewan, there are about 200 new cases every year, Montaner said.
"We have repeatedly made a proposal, plea for the rest of the country to embrace this program."
Pregnant women have been routinely tested in B.C. for years and health officials say the testing has almost eliminated mother-to-child transmission of the disease.
Montaner said the one remaining trouble spot is those undiagnosed with the disease. It's estimated that there may be as many as 3,500 people in B.C. who are unaware they have HIV.
Early diagnosis allows those infected to go on antiretroviral drugs, stopping the progression of the disease and preventing HIV transmission to their partners.
Montaner said he wants to eliminate the stigma of HIV testing for individuals and for health officials across the country.
"They don't get it because it's AIDS. If this were prostate cancer or breast cancer, there would be a campaign tomorrow."
Montaner has a poster on his wall of Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq getting a flu shot, showing leadership to communities to get inoculated. He said the federal government should also be showing leadership on HIV-AIDS issue.
"Why is she not posing taking an HIV test?" he paused. "The feds cannot even say the word."
Montaner said the cities of San Francisco, New York and Washington have all embraced the treatment-as-prevention method. He's going to China next month to help implement a similar program in that country.