July 22, 2015
Written by Mike Hager, Globe and Mail
This article originally appeared on The Globe and Mail’s website here.
Setting up Vancouver’s homeless HIV patients with supportive housing could dramatically increase the number who stick with anti-retroviral drugs that can reduce the disease to undetectable levels and prevent transmission to others, according to a new study presented on Tuesday at an international HIV/AIDS conference.
The finding underscores the importance of a housing-first model for the most marginalized patients, who often have mental-health and addiction issues, according to the lead author of a study by U.S. and Canadian researchers presented at the International AIDS Society conference.
Over the past decade, researchers on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside interviewed 708 hard-to-treat HIV patients, about a third of whom reported living on the streets. The vast majority – 94 per cent – were injection drug users.
In tests at a clinic at the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS a month after each interview, researchers recorded the level of the virus detected in the anonymous subjects.
Their data showed 38 per cent of all the participants had suppressed their HIV through antitretroviral drugs to the point where it was undetectable, but only 22 per cent of the homeless participants reached those levels.
Based on those results, researchers predict that finding those patients supporting housing could increase the proportion who take anti-retroviral drugs by 80 per cent.