Canada Piloting Controversial Program To Eliminate HIV/AIDS

Once again, we’re after the one percent. But this time, it’s to help them out; the British Columbia Ministry of Health in Canada has just launched a massive four year, $48 million program in the hopes of eradicating HIV/AIDS – by means of detecting and treating the disease faster than ever.  In the spirit of leaving no stone unturned, this pilot program aims to test everyone in the province who has ever been sexually active.

Routine tests in hospitals throughout B.C. have shown that one percent are unaware of being HIV-positive, having no outward signs of infection. These people are the targets of B.C.’s revolutionary program. As Reta Gustafson, Medical Director of Communicable Disease Control for Vancouver Coastal Health, puts it matter-of-factly, “If you have HIV and don’t know it, you can’t do anything [to get treated].” Discovery of such cases, if progress is to be made, cannot rely solely on fluke. It is with this in mind that a new HIV antibody test is being implemented. The test requires but a single drop of blood from a person’s fingertip, and yields results in 30 seconds. Developed in Vancouver, it has been dubbed “A very important new step” in the worldwide fight against HIV by Dr. Julio Montaner, director of B.C.’s Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS.

With such a discovery has come a murmur of excitement, a giddiness at the possibilities. There are hopes of eliminating the stigma that has forever been the tag-along little brother to HIV testing. “HIV carries a stigma of fear or shame. It doesn’t have the cache or heroism or struggle that’s associated with other conditions,” analyses Scott Harrison, Program Director of Urban Health at Providence Health Care. For fear of being positive for a tabooed disease, people often avoid the test altogether. Now, with the campaign to have every single person tested, the plea, “but everybody’s doing it!” can be seen in a positive light (rest assured, mothers, that bridge-jumping remains as it always has). Having even unsuspecting people take the test allows for sooner diagnosis, sooner treatment, and a sooner return to normal life.

On a much grander scale, this program presents itself as the first step towards eliminating HIV/AIDS. A person aware of their HIV-positive status is infinitely less likely to transmit the disease; a population in the know can stop the spread. Dianne Doyle, CEO for Provincial Health Care, speculates that if this project works, it could mark the “beginning of the end” for HIV/AIDS. The ability to truly change history… is amazing.”

However, there is still a cons list that accompanies the new program. Privacy concerns arise with such a widespread testing plan; people are seldom made aware who is going to get their information, and that presents a drawback for many. Second is a psychological criterion that many fear won’t be met: participants must receive adequate, pre-test counselling, which often falls by the wayside. Last is the certainty of not being able to test 100 percent of the desired population, because the province is unable to make the testing mandatory. As the rational Dr. Montaner puts it: “Nothing mandatory ever works, when you [make] something mandatory you end up driving people underground.” We can only hope the public will embrace the concept and help in the struggle against HIV.

There you have it, folks: the facts, the fortes, and the flaws. Since this program is destined for the public, we welcome public response; let us know what you think of this new age of HIV/AIDS testing on our facebook page!

Sources

B.C. launches massive program to wipe out HIV/AIDS

B.C. aims to end HIV/AIDS with widespread testing

Image via: CBC News British Columbia

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