AIDS 'no longer an epidemic' in B.C., doctor declares amid record-low number of cases
VANCOUVER -- "AIDS is no longer an epidemic in B.C."
That landmark declaration was made by Dr. Julio Montaner Sunday at his newly renovated lab on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Montaner is the executive director and physician-in-chief of the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, credited with helping to dramatically reduce the number of new infections in the province.
On World AIDS Day, Montaner and B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix cut the ribbon to officially open the new lab, working to support people living with HIV/AIDS and also collecting vital research.
"B.C. is seen as having the world’s gold standard to profoundly reduce HIV transmission and transition the crisis from a serious epidemic to a manageable chronic disease," Health Minister Adrian Dix said.
A handout at the event showed new cases of HIV have dropped 73 per cent in B.C. since 1996, and new AIDS cases have decreased 90 per cent since 1994.
"Right here are 647 Powell, we're again leading the world," Dix told reporters Sunday.
The figures are a stark contrast to national estimates. New HIV cases in Canada have increased by 17 per cent since 2014.
"The importance of making this announcement is not so much bragging about it, but actually highlighting the fact that this can be done, it should be done and we have the tools to help the rest of the world," Dr. Julio Montaner said.
The other issue is those who carry the disease, but don’t know it. Canada’s latest progress report estimates 21 per cent of those infected are unaware they carry HIV.
A Vancouver company is hoping to change that.
Richmond-based bioLytical makes rapid diagnostic test products, and is currently running clinical trials of an HIV self-test that takes one minute.
"It is showing high effectiveness in reaching the undiagnosed," chief technical director Rick Galli told CTV News. "This is a type of test delivery that is really brand new, having a self-test is another tool in the box to reach these populations."
The clinical study is running in Toronto and Winnipeg, and will soon be up and running in Montreal, Saskatoon and Victoria. If the product is approved by Health Canada, the test can become available for discreet, at-home HIV testing.
"Data from this study is going to be used as the corner stone for our application to Health Canada," Galli said. "There’s a lot of review that needs to go into the process, but bioLytical has been working closely with Health Canada on designing the study so hopefully the review process will be streamlined a little. We’re optimistic that approval would occur sometime in 2020, perhaps the late second or third quarter of the year."