Thanks to a program pioneered in Canada, future cases of AIDS around the world are being prevented.
HAART, which stands for highly active antiretroviral therapy, uses triple-drug therapy to stop HIV in its tracks. B.C. has been using HAART treatment as prevention since 1996, with dramatic results. “While an outright cure for HIV remains elusive, HAART has transformed HIV infection from a short-term death sentence into a chronic, manageable condition and helped restore the health of thousands in Canada and millions worldwide,” says Dr. Julio Montaner, director of the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS at St. Paul’s Hospital.
The B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS pioneered the concept of Treatment as Prevention and proved that it not only transforms HIV infection into a long-term chronic manageable disease, it also dramatically decreases HIV transmission rates. HAART therapy is available across Canada.
China recently adopted a similar program as its national HIV policy. The made-in-Canada strategy is also being echoed in San Francisco, New York (the Bronx) and Washington.
Here’s the impact the program has had in BC: In the early 1990s, at least one British Columbian per day was dying of AIDS. Since HAART’s introduction in 1996, AIDS-related mortality has fallen by more than 90 per cent among those receiving treatment, says Dr. Montaner, who is also chair in AIDS research and head of division of AIDS at the University of British Columbia.
“In appropriately treated individuals, HAART reduces the concentration of HIV present in plasma and in sexual fluids to levels so low as to be undetectable by the best commercially available tests,” says Montaner.
Reducing the infection allows people’s immune systems to recover and stops the progression of HIV disease and even AIDS.