By Laurie Edmiston
Good news? On this World AIDS Day, 2016, there is a lot to report.
The science of treatment and prevention has much to inspire agencies delivering needed services to people living with, and at risk of, HIV.
We know that there are significant health benefits for people with HIV to begin treatment as soon as possible after diagnosis. Early treatment with good adherence in order to maintain an undetectable viral load allows an HIV-positive person to live a long and healthy life. A ground-breaking study called START (Strategic Timing of Antiretroviral Treatment) found that immediate treatment upon an HIV diagnosis significantly reduced the risk of serious illness.
New data from two important studies—HPTN 052 and PARTNER—continue to clearly demonstrate that the consistent and correct use of antiretroviral therapy (ART) to maintain an undetectable viral load is a highly effective HIV prevention strategy. As part of a comprehensive sexual health plan, when ART is adhered to and an undetectable viral load is maintained, the risk of HIV transmission is negligible.
For people at risk, research has shown that pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is a highly effective method for preventing HIV transmission. Based on the compelling evidence, Health Canada approved in February the use of daily oral Truvada as PrEP in combination with safer sex practices. National guidelines for PrEP are in development and health authorities are considering how PrEP fits within a comprehensive HIV prevention strategy.
Living a long and healthy life, and reducing the risk of HIV transmission: that is good news that still needs to be spread far and wide.
Good news beyond science
This is a time of consensus and coordination, when many in the front line of Canada’s HIV response are expressing the need for a coordinated approach that ensures that there are no gaps in the delivery of services throughout the prevention, testing, treatment and care continuum.
Agencies and communities across Canada for the past year and a half have been articulating a set of core principles that would inform the policy direction and delivery of HIV services. Called The Canadian Consensus Statement on the Health and Prevention Benefits of HIV Antiretroviral Medications and HIV Testing, it is a declaration of support for principles such as:
- Promoting awareness of the health and prevention benefits of HIV medications and testing;
- Creating a shared understanding of how to best respond to the HIV epidemic;
- Supporting people through HIV prevention and treatment; and
- Respecting human rights in the context of the HIV epidemic.
Launched officially at AIDS 2016 by CATIE, CTAC and PositiveLite.com, the Canadian Consensus Statement is available at www.hivconsensusvih.ca for all involved in the HIV response to review and sign on. We encourage you to take a look and declare your support for these principles.
Given the good news in research-based HIV science and the energy and coordination we see in many agencies across Canada, we are optimistic that we are turning the tide on this, the 20th year since ART gave us our first look at a new world of hope.
Laurie Edmiston is executive director of CATIE, Canada’s source for HIV and hepatitis C information.