BC Hospitals Begin Routine Testing for HIV to Help Curb Global Epidemic

Vancouver Coastal Health and Providence Health Care in British Columbia are taking the fight against HIV/AIDS to a new level by launching a pilot project in which most hospital patients who consent will be routinely offered a test for the infection.

There are an estimated 3,500 people living in BC who are not aware they are HIV positive. Routinely offering tests in hospitals will help diagnose some of these people and enable them to begin treatment which will prolong and improve their lives, and reduce transmission to others.

This approach to HIV testing has already been incorporated into routine care for all pregnant women in BC for many years. Most women are at low risk, but this form of routine testing has virtually eliminated mother-to-child transmission of HIV.

Beginning Oct. 3, physicians will offer the test to all patients being admitted to St. Paul's and Mount Saint Joseph hospitals when they have their other bloodwork done. Testing will be offered to patients upon admission to Vancouver General starting in November and at UBC hospital in 2012. Patients who test positive for HIV will be supported with appropriate care and treatment.

Test results are stored in a confidential computer information system and only healthcare staff directly involved in the care of a patient may access the patient's information. As with all medical tests, the patient has the right to refuse an HIV test and only those patients able to make a decision on their own, will be offered one.

This pilot project will end in March 2013, at which time the results will be evaluated to determine whether to continue and possibly expand the project.

The pilot is a component of a larger provincial STOP HIV/AIDS pilot program (Seek and Treat for Optimal Prevention of HIV/AIDS) a four-year, $48-million program funded by the Ministry of Health to improve access to HIV testing, treatment, and support services in Vancouver and Prince George.

Dr. Julio Montaner, director of the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS at St. Paul's Hospital and past-president of the International AIDS Society, notes, "Still today HIV infection is not being diagnosed early enough. This is a serious issue as it can lead to fully preventable morbidity, mortality and HIV transmission. Given the remarkable efficacy of Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy (HAART), it's more important than ever for people to be diagnosed and access treatment as early as possible. We now know that HAART is the most effective means of stopping disease progression, and at the same time preventing HIV transmission. The unwavering support of the HAART expansion strategy by the Provincial Government has allowed us to bring HIV mortality and HIV transmission to an all time low in 2010. Indeed, BC leads Canada in this regard. The expansion of HIV testing launched today by VCH and PHC represents yet another fundamental step towards the control of HIV in BC."