Skip to main content

British Columbia Health Minister Margaret MacDiarmid, right, is given a demonstration by research assistants Jeremy Taylor, second left, and Carmond Ng, hidden at left, in the lab at the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS before announcing $19.9 million in annual funding for a program to combat the disease in Vancouver, B.C., on Friday November 30, 2012. Treatment as prevention, or TasP for short, is a strategy pioneered in B.C. which has now been adopted by a number of countries around the world.

Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press

The number of people becoming newly infected with HIV and those dying of AIDS-related causes have both plummeted in British Columbia, thanks largely to the widespread use of antiretrovirals.

Only 84 new cases were diagnosed in the province in 2013, down from 253 in 1997; that's a 67-per-cent drop. The number of AIDS-related deaths fell to 44 from 241 in the same period, an 82-per-cent reduction.

"What the numbers tell us is that our approach – treatment as prevention – is working by minimizing mortality, morbidity and HIV transmission," Viviane Dias Lima, senior statistician at the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS (BC-CfE), said in an interview.

Story continues below advertisement

The findings are published in Friday's edition of the medical journal, The Lancet.

Treatment as prevention, or TasP for short, is a strategy pioneered in B.C. which has now been adopted by a number of countries around the world.

The concept is that by diagnosing HIV early, with near-universal testing, then treating aggressively with cocktails of antiretrovirals, the amount of virus circulating in a person's body can be suppressed to the point of being undetectable. This, in turn, dramatically decreases the likelihood of spreading HIV (even if an infected person does not practise safer sex), and it improves longevity and quality of life by reducing HIV-related symptoms.

Antiretroviral therapy – using cocktails of drugs to keep the AIDS virus from replicating – was introduced widely in 1996, and it has dramatically changed the lives of the HIV-positive, as the new numbers demonstrate.

In 1996, there were 252 deaths among the HIV-positive population, 241 of whom died of AIDS-related causes. That's 96 per cent. By contrast, in 2013, there were 218 deaths among the HIV-positive, but only 44 were AIDS-related. That's 20 per cent.

"This is an aging population and they are no longer dying of AIDS-defining illnesses, but of heart disease, cancer and respiratory illnesses, just like everyone else," Dr. Lima said.

While the life expectancy of people with HIV/AIDS is now approaching that of the general population, one of the unknowns is whether HIV infection, which attacks the immune system, is accelerating the aging process.

Story continues below advertisement

"That's the question everyone is asking and we're going to do a study to try and find out," Dr. Lima said.

There is also evidence that antiretrovirals, while extending life, can damage the heart and other internal organs.

Julio Montaner, director of the BC-CfE, said the new B.C. numbers are encouraging and demonstrate again that the "treatment-as-prevention experience provides a road map for global HIV/AIDS control and, eventually, the elimination of the pandemic." The TasP strategy was adopted by B.C. in 2006, but other provinces and territories have been slow to follow suit.

However, TasP is a cornerstone of UNAIDS' ambitious 90-90-90 target, a three-pronged plan that aims to have 90 per cent of people who are infected with HIV/AIDS aware of their status by 2020; 90 per cent of those who know their status being treated with antiretrovirals; and 90 per cent of those in treatment having undectable levels of the virus in their body so they cannot infect others.

If those targets are met, it is believed that transmission of HIV can be stopped within a generation, by the year 2030.

An estimated 65,000 people in Canada are living with HIV/AIDS. In 2012, the most recent year for which there are detailed data, there were 2,062 new cases, the lowest number since reporting began in 1985.

Story continues below advertisement

Worldwide, an estimated 35 million people are living with HIV/AIDS.

Editor's note: Between 1997 and 2013, British Columbia has had an 82-per-cent reduction in AIDS-related deaths. An earlier version of this story gave an incorrect percentage.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Cannabis pro newsletter