Northern Health Marks World AIDS Day 2015 by Building on Past Success

Northern Health is marking World AIDS Day 2015 by building on successes to stop HIV transmission in the North.  The plan will build on our current understanding about HIV transmission and treatment, while broadening the reach and impact of community services. The plan will also build on the foundations of the award winning Prince George STOP HIV/AIDS pilot project and HIV101.

Over the next year, Northern Health’s HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C team will involve family physicians, specialists, community agencies and Northern Health staff in coordinating and improving efforts to achieve the Ministry of Health’s “From Hope to Health; towards an AIDS-free Generation” goals, and global targets established by UNAIDS.

The approach will focus on:

  • Establishing the “From Hope to Health” regional HIV / Hepatitis C specialized care team to better support those living with HIV to achieve viral suppression, meaning the disease is undetectable and with a low risk of transmission, and cure those currently living with hepatitis C
  • Collaborating with primary care practices across the region to further increase testing and treatment currently occurring in family doctors’ offices and primary care clinics across the region
  • Partnering with community organisations on an RFI and RFP process that will re-examine existing contracts and make up to an additional $180,000 available to distribute to successful organizations to improve the reach and impact of prevention, testing, treatment and support services across the North

“We know that awareness, testing and treatment are increasing, but some people are still unaware of their infection and some living with HIV and hepatitis C can be better supported”, says Ciro Panessa, Northern Health’s Regional Director of Chronic Diseases.  “We will continue to involve the most knowledgeable and most affected people to ensure that we can prevent new cases of HIV and keep people who already have the disease healthy; we are confident our approach with accomplish this goal.”

The full HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C plan is public available at HIV101.ca. It focuses on preventing new infections from happening by being more proactive about safer sex and harm reduction distribution and recovery, timely and more easily accessible testing to catch new infections early, and supporting people to maintain treatment so that infections do not progress to AIDS.

The new plan builds on the successes and learnings reported in the July 2015 Seek and Treat for Optimal Prevention (STOP) of HIV Progress Report. The report released in July 2015 showed a 39 per cent  increase in testing between 2009 to 2014 in northern B.C., and the rate of testing growing in each year. There are a number of projects that have helped increase the testing rate in northern B.C. including the STOP HIV/AIDS pilot project and HIV101 campaign. These campaigns and successes were built on partnerships, and we will continue to collaborate to enhance services in northern B.C.

Point of care testing which is now offered at eight Northern Health and First Nations Health Authority sites, provides a fast and simple screening for HIV antibodies using a small amount of blood from a person’s finger. The results are available in minutes.  In addition, more acute care facilities are starting to offer an HIV test as part of regular blood work. Fort St. James, Vanderhoof and Fraser Lake introduced this practice in spring of 2014. We continue to look at methods to expand and support this practice.

“We’re proud of the work that has been accomplished to date by partners across northern B.C., yet know there are further opportunities to stop the spread of HIV and increase treatment,” said Dr. Abu Hamour, Northern Health’s lead for blood borne pathogens. “People need to be aware that there is effective treatment available to them if they do contract HIV, and that we’re here to support them throughout their lives.”

Even with the successes for the STOP HIV program and the HIV101 campaign, HIV rates remain high across northern B.C. To help address this, Northern Health is releasing this new plan. Deaths related to HIV in northern B.C. have dropped from 13 in 2009 to 5 in 2014. It is the goal of the Province of B.C., Northern Health, and our partners to continue reducing these numbers, allowing people to live longer.

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NH media line – 250.961.7724