Yesterday, I had the opportunity to introduce our CEO, Richard Edelman, to one of Vancouver office’s longest standing clients — the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS. We met with Dr. Julio Montaner, the current Director of the Centre and the Past President of the International Aids Society, a group with more than 16,000 members.
Dr. Montaner has called Vancouver home for decades, but originates from Argentina, and without a doubt, that country’s loss has been this country’s gain.
Richard walked away from the meeting impressed with Julio’s passion, commitment and knowledge about a disease that is still not under control in Canada, and is ravaging countries in Africa and other developing nations.
And according to Julio, this doesn’t have to be the case. The Centre for Excellence has developed a drug cocktail of antiretroviral medicines that if taken, reduce the chance of transmitting the disease by 90% or more. As example, in BC, because of the Centre providing drug treatment guidelines to the medical community about how to treat people with HIV/AIDS, we have not had a single transmission of HIV from mother to child, where the mother has received the antiretroviral cocktail. Think what this means to countries in Africa, where the incidence of HIV runs at 30% population wide. There is not a single child born in the world today of an HIV-infected mother that needs to be born with HIV. That is, if the mother received treatment. And if everyone who currently tested positive for HIV received antiretroviral medicine as soon as they were diagnosed, they would not be able to spread the disease to anyone else, regardless of engaging in high risk behaviours such as unprotected sex.
The cost of treating someone with HIV/AIDS in BC is around $15,000 annually, or $750,000 over their lifetime, so it’s easy to see what the incentive is to ensure no additional people get the virus. The cost of treating someone in Africa drops to under $200 a year due to the use generic drugs — (which is another issue altogether.)
So think about it — spending about $200 per person who currently has HIV/AIDS and the pandemic could come to a screeching halt.
I recognize I may be simplifying the research, because it’s complex. But I don’t think I’m simplifying the concept. We know that trying to get people to behave differently — to not share needles or to use condoms — hasn’t been effective, because the number of people in developing countries and here at home continues to increase not decline.
So what’s to be done? That’s the real question. They say that information is power, but in this case, it will take policy — at the Federal government level here at home, and beyond our borders. It will take the government moving away from a moral position about needle sharing and sex trade workers and homosexuality and the like to a harm reduction point of view that says people infected with the HIV virus are worthy of saving, regardless of how they got the virus in the first place.
It will take world leaders and international organizations to support developing countries with both funding and encouragement to treat their citizens. It will take businesses that want to ensure there’s a workforce to mine the diamonds and exploit the resources.
But most importantly, it will take believing that it’s a virus worth eradicating and that Prevention through Treatment is a real possibility.