On upcoming World AIDS Day on Dec. 1, Health Minister Terry Lake has said that “With World AIDS Day just around the corner, we remember the many families who have suffered a loss from HIV/AIDS. And we acknowledge the incredible scientists, researchers, health-care workers and advocates who have made it possible for us to envision an AIDS free generation.

“B.C. is home to much of this phenomenal work, through sustained support from government, commitment from the health-care system and outstanding research and clinical advances from the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, under the leadership of Dr. Julio Montaner. The BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS was a major driver in these developments and contributed to the discovery of highly active antiretroviral therapy, known as HAART. This therapy makes long, healthy lives possible for people living with HIV and virtually eliminates HIV transmission, through the made-in-BC Treatment as Prevention strategy, also pioneered by Dr. Montaner and his colleagues at the BC Centre for Excellence. Through these efforts, we have virtually eliminated AIDS in B.C. – so much so that we were able to repurpose the AIDS ward at St. Paul’s Hospital.

“On November 22, Dr. Montaner received the Research Canada Leadership Award on behalf of the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS. This award recognizes a Canadian health research organization that has made considerable contributions to the health and well-being of Canadians. I congratulate Dr. Montaner and the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS for this well-deserved recognition, and thank him for the ground-breaking, internationally recognized work that has made it possible for the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS)  to call for the end of the AIDS pandemic by 2030.

“In B.C., HIV treatment is provided free of charge to any British Columbian living with HIV. As well, the STOP HIV/AIDS program — that supports universal offers of testing, early treatment and retention in care, rolled out across the province in 2013, is now fully implemented through $19.9 million in additional annual, targeted government funding.

“Since 1996, HIV/AIDS-related deaths in B.C. have decreased by more than 95% and newly-diagnosed HIV infections are down by two-thirds. Through the use of antiretroviral medications, mother-to-child transmission of HIV in B.C. has been virtually eliminated. More British Columbians are getting tested early, which gives health-care workers an opportunity to offer the treatment, care and support that can improve quality of life, and it reduces the risk of passing the virus on to others. In 2015-16, more than 50% of British Columbians who were newly diagnosed with HIV and assessed were in the early stage of their illness.

“However, we know we still have work to do. More than 20% of newly diagnosed people are diagnosed at very late stages of illness, which makes it difficult for them to live healthy, symptom-free lives. In addition, work is still needed to ensure that everyone living with HIV is offered treatment and supported to have the best health possible.

“We continue to fund the distribution of harm reduction supplies and are expanding supervised consumption services. Vancouver Coastal Health Authority has submitted two applications for additional sites and all health authorities are actively pursuing how they can set up sites in their region.

“Last World AIDS Day, we were pleased to see the Canadian government endorse the made-in-B.C. UN 90-90-90 target, building on the Treatment as Prevention concept led by the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS. These global targets call for 90% of people living with HIV to know their status, 90% of all people diagnosed with HIV to be on treatment, and 90% of those people to be on treatment to successfully manage their infection by 2020.

“We look forward to working with the Canadian government and other provinces and territories to share the lessons learned in B.C.

“It’s amazing to see how far we’ve come in preventing new infections and improving the quality of life for people living with HIV/AIDS. We’ll continue our work in prevention, testing and ensuring people living with HIV are getting the support they need to live a healthy life.”