Canada has signed on to global targets to eliminate HIV and hepatitis C as public health threats by 2030. While ambitious, these targets are now a realistic possibility thanks to the effectiveness of modern medications. HIV treatment can suppress the virus so successfully that HIV-positive Canadians who start treatment early can have life expectancies similar to their HIV-negative peers. This also prevents the transmission of HIV to their sexual partners. And most Canadians treated for hepatitis C are now cured within weeks.
There are a lot of new test technologies in the pipeline: both new types of tests in the works, such as rapid syphilis tests or point-of-care HIV viral load testing, and new ways to use existing tests, such as self-testing or online testing.
As testing options increase, we need to think about where they will have the most impact. I learned about this from helping implement a new test technology called pooled nucleic acid amplification testing (pooled NAAT) at six clinics in Vancouver in 2009, as part of a research study to determine the impact of this new type of test on gay men’s lives. With pooled NAAT, blood samples that are negative on a routine screen for HIV antibodies are automatically tested for HIV RNA. This shortens the HIV window period to 10-12 days and means that individuals with very early or acute infection – when HIV viral load and chances of transmission are high – can be diagnosed at a time when standard tests are negative.
While at AIDS 2014, CATIE’s Ed Jackson and I met with a number of Australian agencies to pursue a plan to share best practices around gay men’s sexual health programming. I was already familiar with some of Australia’s powerful awareness, prevention and testing campaigns, but a closer look at the Aussie HIV response has been eye-opening and provides many useful learnings for Canada.
The CATIE Blog hosts the views and opinions of people and organizations working and volunteering in Canada’s response to HIV and hepatitis C.