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B.C. AIDS group wants federal action

By Stefania Seccia

Dr. Julio Montaner, director of the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS.
File photo

Dr. Julio Montaner, director of the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS. File photo

The director of the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS finds the Conservative government’s lack of support for a national strategy this election disturbing.

Since publishing an open letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper Sept. 22, asking for them to endorse the United Nations HIV/AIDS strategy, Dr. Julio Montaner has renewed his call.

Montaner has written to the federal government each year since the introduction of Treatment as Prevention in 2006 — calling for the strategy to be implemented in all of Canada. B.C. is the only province to do so despite spikes in cases in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Ottawa.

According to the centre, treatment coverage is uneven across the country and a recent study found 48% of Canadians living with HIV began treatment too late — when their immune systems had already taken a hit.

The Conservative government said while it supports the principles behind the 90-90-90 target, it has focused on vaccine development and behavioral changes in its approach to HIV and AIDS prevention. That target calls for at least 90% of those living with HIV to be diagnosed, 90% to receive antiretroviral therapy and90% on treatment to sustain viral suppression.

“By aiming to indiscriminately treat all those who are affected by HIV, we can ensure an end to AIDS,” Montaner said in a release. “It is time for the federal government to join the many other countries adopting Treatment as Prevention.

“While the Conservative government is missing on the issue of HIV and AIDS, we are falling behind and leaving costly vulnerabilities in our own health-care system.”

TASP emphasizes early testing and full and universal access to antiretroviral therapy upon HIV diagnosis, which served as a basis model for last week’s update of the UN’s World Health Organization guidelines for treatment.

But Montaner did receive positive responses back from the NDP, the Greens and Liberals.

While leader Elizabeth May posted a petition on the Green Party’s website calling for TASP’s implementation, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau wrote Montaner back Oct. 8, promising to take “aggressive action to combat both the disease as well as the unfortunate stigma that continues to surround it,” by adopting the global plan to end AIDS.