July 28, 2015

This Is the Way to Beat AIDS

Written by Dr. Julio Montaner

This article originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

This week’s International AIDS Society (IAS) Conference, hosted in Vancouver for the first time in nearly two decades, marks yet another milestone. The gold standard in HIV treatment (highly active antiretroviral therapy or HAART) was first introduced at the 1996 Vancouver IAS Conference. This was a pivotal moment, when HIV infection became a chronic manageable condition.

The 2015 IAS Conference, attracting around 6,500 delegates from all over the world, comes on the heels of three major achievements. It was announced this week that the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of 15 million people on antiretroviral therapy by 2015 has been met. This is the first MDG that has been met, and we have done so nearly nine months ahead of schedule. There was also the recent release of the TEMPRANO and START trials confirming that immediate antiretroviral treatment for HIV reduces disease progression by about a half. Finally, there was the announcement of the final results of the HPTN 052 trial showing that an HIV infected person who faithfully takes effective antiretroviral therapy is virtually not able to pass on the virus. Furthermore, research studies from Vancouver, San Francisco, KwaZulu-Natal and Rwanda conclusively showed the strategy works in rich and in resource-limited settings. In other words: treatment fully prevents disease progression to AIDS, premature death and secondarily HIV transmission, through every means, all the time and everywhere.

Treatment as Prevention (TasP), pioneered in B.C. with support from the provincial government and introduced to the world nearly a decade ago at the 2006 IAS Conference in Toronto, has gained the day.

The world has now come to agreement that we need to provide treatment as early as possible (regardless of CD4 cell count level) to those living with HIV. This is a time to shine a light on the gains made in B.C. — the only Canadian province to implement TasP and the only one to see a consistent decline in new HIV cases (65 per cent since 1994). At this year’s IAS Conference, delegates and leaders signed on to the Vancouver Consensus, calling for the provision of immediate treatment to those diagnosed with HIV.

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