It's time for the rest of Canada to follow B.C.'s lead in offering free antiretroviral drugs to people with HIV, researchers say.
The B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV-AIDS looked at antiretroviral use and HIV rates in B.C., Ontario and Quebec. For 10% increase in HIV patients taking the drugs, there's a corresponding 8% decrease in new infections, they found.
That's because the drugs make it far less likely that an HIV patient will spread the virus, whether through sex, needles to from a mother to a fetus.
In B.C., where antiretroviral therapy is offered for free under the Treatment as Prevention program, the number of new people contracting the virus that causes AIDS has dropped by more than half, from 682 in 1985 to 289 in 2011.
"The evidence is clear: The time is now for Canada's leaders to take action and implement Treatment as Prevention as the national strategy in the fight against HIV/AIDS. To do anything less would be a failure in their duty to protect the health of all Canadians," said Dr. Julio Montaner, senior author of the study.
Each year, 3,300 Canadians are diagnosed with HIV, and it's estimated that 65,000 Canadians are now living with the virus.
This number could double within 15 years if the current rate of new infections continues, say researchers, but free drugs could avert that.
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