Conservative Government Missing on Endorsement of Global and Domestic Strategy to End AIDS

VANCOUVER, Oct. 9, 2015 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- In response to a letter from the Director of the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS (BC-CfE) Dr. Julio Montaner, all federal political parties - except the Conservative government - pledged their support of a global target to end AIDS by 2030. On September 22, Dr. Julio Montaner wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, which was also sent to all leaders of the Canadian federal parties, calling on the federal government to formally endorse the United Nations HIV/AIDS strategy. The 90-90-90 Target, created by UNAIDS, is based on the made in BC concept of Treatment as Prevention® (TasP®) pioneered by Dr. Montaner.

In a letter to Dr. Montaner dated October 8, Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada Justin Trudeau announced his support for the adoption of the global plan to end AIDS, and called on Canada to make a commitment on the world stage. "Should the Liberal Party of Canada form the next government, we are dedicated to taking aggressive action to combat both the disease, as well as the unfortunate stigma that continues to surround it," wrote Trudeau.

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May has posted a petition on the party's website calling for nationwide implementation of TasP®. The NDP Party, through Victoria NDP candidate Murray Rankin, said the government "needs to work with the provinces to adopt the targets domestically.

The Conservative government said that, while it "has been supportive of the principles behind" the 90-90-90 Target, it "cannot lose sight of the continued importance of primary prevention." The current federal government has focused largely on vaccine development and behavioural changes in its approach to HIV and AIDS prevention.

The TasP® strategy emphasizes early testing and full and universal access to effective, lifesaving antiretroviral therapy upon HIV diagnosis. It serves as the foundation of the UN's plan to end AIDS by 2030 by expanding HIV testing and treatment. Recent international clinical trials have added to confirming evidence that early treatment is effective in improving health outcomes for those with HIV, and decreasing spread of the disease. In September of this year, the World Health Organization updated its HIV treatment guidelines, calling for all those diagnosed to be given immediate antiretroviral treatment (something BC has been doing since 2006).

Within Canada, BC is the only province to implement TasP® and the only one to see a consistent decline in new HIV cases. Meanwhile alarming spikes in the epidemic have been seen in provinces such as Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and even the capital city of Canada, Ottawa. Across the country, treatment coverage remains uneven and a recent study found 48% of Canadians living with HIV started treatment late, when their immune systems had already been compromised.

In his letter to Dr. Montaner, Trudeau highlighted grave inaction on the part of the federal government: "Unfortunately, since taking office in 2006, the Harper Conservatives have been slow to either embrace or accept any scientific innovation, and have failed to consult with leading experts, such as [Dr. Montaner]."

This is not the first time there was a lack of response: Dr. Montaner has written to the federal government each year since the introduction of Treatment as Prevention® in 2006 (based on scientific evidence that it effectively stemmed HIV transmission) and called for the strategy to be implemented in Canada.

"By aiming to indiscriminately treat all those who are affected by HIV, we can ensure an end to AIDS," said Dr. Montaner. "It is time for the federal government to join the many other countries adopting Treatment as Prevention®. While the Conservative government is missing on the issue of HIV and AIDS, we are falling behind and leaving costly vulnerabilities in our own health care system."

The UNAIDS 90-90-90 Target

UNAIDS created the 90-90-90 Target, based on the Treatment as Prevention® strategy, calling for at least 90% of those living with HIV to be diagnosed, at least 90% of all people living with HIV to have access to high quality antiretroviral therapy, and at least 90% of those on treatment to have sustained HIV viral suppression. Meeting the 90-90-90 Target by 2020 will lead to a 90% reduction in the global burden of HIV/AIDS by 2030, when compared to a 2010 baseline (including AIDS-related morbidity and mortality, as well as HIV transmission). The United Nations has embraced the target as part of its Sustainable Development Goals for 2030.

About the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS

The BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS (BC-CfE) is Canada's largest HIV/AIDS research, treatment and education facility and is internationally recognized as an innovative world leader in combating HIV/AIDS and related diseases. The BC-CfE is based at St. Paul's Hospital, Providence Health Care, a teaching hospital of the University of British Columbia. The BC-CfE works in close collaboration with key provincial stakeholders, including government, health authorities, health care providers, academics from other institutions, and the community to decrease the health burden of HIV and AIDS. By developing, monitoring and disseminating comprehensive research and treatment programs for HIV and related illnesses, the BC-CfE helps improve the health of British Columbians.

CONTACT: For additional information or to request interviews, please contact: Caroline Dobuzinskis, BC-CfE Cell: 604-366-6540 Phone: 604-682-2344 ext. 66536 Email: cdobuzin@cfenet.ubc.caSource:B.C. Centre for Excellencein HIV/AIDS..