AIDS deaths and new HIV infections are plummeting in British Columbia. Experts say the decline is due to an aggressive policy of placing the newly infected immediately on a drug regimen and thus reducing their infectiousness.
“We’re particularly pleased to see that our treatment-as-prevention strategy has taken off big-time,” said Dr. Julio S. G. Montaner, director of the British Columbia Center for Excellence in H.I.V./AIDS. His center was a pioneer in the strategy, which involves searching aggressively for people at risk of H.I.V. infection, talking them into being tested and putting those who are infected on antiretroviral drugs immediately, which lowers by 96 percent the chances that they will infect others.
Credit is also being given to Vancouver’s “safe-injection” center where IV drug users can get and use clean needles on the premises.
San Francisco and New York City have also adopted “treatment as prevention” policies, but some HIV activists have denounced the idea due to questions about the long-term side effects of taking the medications for decades. Reknowned HIV/AIDS activist Sean Strub:
This is, in essence, a chemical quarantine. People should be given the option to take drugs to reduce their chance of transmitting to others, but to recommend treatment for people in the absence of conclusive science that it will, on average, provide a greater net benefit than harm, is unethical. Why haven’t the NYC DOH–and the other promoters of “treat everyone with HIV, no matter their medical need”–been out advocating for the clinical trials to definitively answer the question as to when is the optimal time for a person with HIV to commence treatment? We know that some people with high CD4 counts can go years and years, some even decades, without going on treatment and suffering the cumulative toxicities of treatment. But now NYC DOH, as well as San Francisco’s DOH, are advocating putting those people on treatment. This is not healthcare, it is a chemical quarantine.