Interior Health sets its sights on stopping HIV

On December 1, communities around the world will be marking World AIDS Day to raise awareness about HIV prevention and treatment.

This year’s theme is Getting to zero – zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination, and zero AIDS-related deaths. That may seem like a tall order but Interior Health, its community partners and physicians want to implement a new program that has the potential to get us there.

STOP HIV/AIDS (Seek and Treat for Optimal Prevention of HIV/AIDS) is a successful program that reduces HIV transmission by ensuring those living with HIV/AIDS know their HIV status and have access to the best care through expanded HIV testing and engagement in prevention and treatment.

“B.C. is a world leader in HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and care, and the made-in-B.C. Treatment as Prevention strategy is becoming a standard of care for HIV/ AIDS patients around the world,” BC Minister of Health Terry Lake said in a statement. “Thanks to the STOP HIV/AIDS program and the efforts of Interior Health and its community partners, getting to zero is an achievable goal in British Columbia.”

STOP HIV/AIDS aims to make HIV testing a part of routine medical screening in hospitals, doctor’s offices, and walk-in clinics.

“Up to 26 per cent of B.C. residents who are infected with HIV are not aware of their infection and the majority of people who are newly infected with HIV are often getting it from people who didn’t know they had HIV to begin with,” Dr. Trevor Corneil, Medical Health Officer and lead physician for STOP HIV, said in the statement. “If more people know their HIV status and receive early treatment, the spread of the disease in our communities can be halted.”

He said early diagnosis also means better outcomes. Advances in treatment mean that people who are HIV positive are living a much longer and near normal life.

“When an infection is identified early it can be managed as a chronic disease. Early treatment can prevent the virus from attacking the body and it can also prevent it from spreading to others,” he said. “STOP HIV engages family physicians in caring for HIV positive persons by giving them access to and support from HIV specialists. This ensures the best possible care is available throughout Interior Health.”

A team of health outreach nurses is also now available to support physicians, community agencies, and HIV positive clients in all Interior Health communities. The outreach nurses provide testing for HIV and related infections, referrals, counselling, medication support, as well as HIV education for individuals and groups. Referrals to the team can be made by physicians, community organizations, or through self-referral by calling 1-866-778-7736.

STOP HIV/AIDS program implementation started in Vernon, Merritt and Trail earlier this year and is now expanding to all communitie4s within Interior Health over the next 24 months, the statement said.