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Canada: Health Officials Credit Harm Reduction for Decline in B.C. HIV Rates

March 29, 2011

New HIV cases among injection drug users are down in British Columbia, report health officials who cite an aggressive test-and-treat campaign and harm reduction programs. In 2009, the province recorded 64 new HIV cases among IDUs, down from 137 cases in 2000, an expert working group found.

The overall number of HIV-positive tests also declined in 2008-09, for all ethnic groups and in both males and females, the province reported. The most apparent decrease was in people ages 20-39.

While the number testing for hepatitis C virus has grown, reported HCV cases are down -- another proxy for potential HIV transmissions among IDU. In 2009, 120,000 people were tested for HCV, up from 64,000 in 1998. Reported HCV cases fell from 4,353 in 2000 to 2,444 in 2009. The report also noted an increase in crack use and fewer young IDUs.

"The recent decline in new HIV cases is encouraging, especially since a significant decrease has been seen amongst vulnerable populations like those who use injectable drugs," said Dr. Perry Kendall, provincial health officer. "This decrease is more proof that highly active antiretroviral therapy and other harm reduction services are working and should be expanded."

In February 2010, the province launched the four-year, $48 million (US $49.1 million) Seek and Treat to Optimally Prevent HIV/AIDS (STOP AIDS) pilot. Led by Dr. Julio Montaner and his colleagues at the B.C. Center for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, STOP AIDS helps link at-risk populations in Prince George and inner-city Vancouver to testing and treatment services.

STOP AIDS follows the province's success in boosting treatment uptake among those who are HIV-positive. Between 1996 and 2009, the number of British Columbian HIV/AIDS patients on antiretroviral therapy grew 547 percent, while new HIV diagnoses fell 52 percent.

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Excerpted from:
Canadian Press

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