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.
Many of you may have noticed the ebb and flow of the community-based HIV movement, influenced by medical and scientific breakthroughs, funder priorities, community activism and larger political, social and economic forces. Throughout my 20-plus years in HIV community-based work and volunteering, I have tried to ground myself in a few bedrocks as a way of anchoring my work. The essential connection between health and human rights. The need for policies, programs and services grounded in evidence and lived experience. Recognition of the central role played by the social determinants of health. And a commitment to social justice and taking seriously the voices of those most affected. That’s why I signed on to The Canadian Consensus Statement on the health and prevention benefits of HIV antiretroviral medications and HIV testing. The Consensus Statement uses these same foundations to ground a comprehensive, community-driven, holistic response to the HIV epidemic that combines HIV treatment and prevention, and health and human rights.
From its beginning, CATIE has shared information with people living with HIV so that they can take better care of their health. In Fall 2015, we undertook a national online survey to better understand the information needs of people living with HIV today. The survey results may confirm what you already know about your clients’ information needs. Or perhaps they contain a surprise or two. Whatever the case, the results help guide all of us in how we can best serve our clients.
In an era where sometimes difficult, science-based decisions are routinely required of both positive and negative individuals− think when to start treatment, or the relative benefits of PrEP vs condoms− are we doing enough to steer people away from bad decisions?
First we need to acknowledge that even in a non-judgmental environment such as ours, some decisions just aren’t wise. Charlie Sheen and the allure of the goat’s milk cure proved that quite publicly. So did this Facebook commenter opining recently when to start treatment: “It’s best to wait until there is a patch, a spray or a cure.” In fact I suspect there is a fairly large faction (I call them “treatment denialists” ) who aren’t persuaded by START that early treatment works best. Or by PARTNER that it can all but eliminate the risk of transmission.
Vancouver is in the limelight again. This year’s International AIDS Society (IAS) Conference may have marked a watershed moment in our HIV response, with some similarity to the 1996 Vancouver AIDS conference when highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) hit the world stage.
The CATIE Blog is written for people and organizations working and volunteering in Canada’s response to HIV and hepatitis C and hosts the views and opinions of frontline service providers.