VICTORIA – Routine HIV-AIDS testing is being offered once every five years to all B.C. residents aged 18-70, building on infection control efforts that have been recognized around the world in reducing disease transmission and death.
B.C.’s “Treatment as Prevention” strategy has proven so effective in pilot programs in Vancouver and Prince George that the government is extending its outreach efforts across the province. Routine testing of pregnant women has all but eliminated mother-child transmission, and anti-viral therapies have cut the death toll of AIDS by 90% since 1996.
Provincial Health Officer Dr. Perry Kendall said going beyond identified risk groups has proven effective in finding infected people in time to provide effective drug treatment. The treatment not only extends life to nearly normal lifespan, it also prevents most transmission of the virus once the patient is being treated.
“These guidelines hold the promise that by expanding HIV testing as we have done, we will be taking another great step towards potentially eliminating HIV in the province of British Columbia,” Kendall said.
Dr. Julio Montaner, director of the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV-AIDS, said the United Nations continues to use B.C. as a model for its global effort to eliminate the disease.
“Back in 1995 we used to have one person or more dying per day at St. Paul’s Hospital alone, every year because of HIV and AIDS,” Montaner said. “Today, my [physician] residents don’t know what that looks like. We virtually have eliminated death from HIV.”
Health Minister Terry Lake said the program is funded with $19.9 million a year, and is recognized as an investment in prevention that saves the province money as well as improving individual well-being for patients.
Information for health care providers on the new testing guidelines is available at a new website.
Doctors will continue to offer HIV-AIDS tests to patients of any age who present with new or worsening medical conditions that require lab tests, show symptoms of HIV infection, are pregnant or if they request an HIV test.