A new campaign launched Monday by Interior Health encourages all adults to get tested for HIV.
The “My Health Is Sexy” campaign uses intimate images to convey the message that knowing your HIV status is an important part of a healthy sex life and a good relationship.
It is part of the province’s Seek and Treat for Optimal Prevention of HIV/AIDS (STOP HIV/AIDS) program, which aims to reduce HIV transmission and improve the health outcomes of those living with HIV. That is done by offering widespread HIV testing, treatment and early engagement into care.
Dr. Trevor Corneil, Medical Health Officer with Interior Health, noted that the treatment actually suppresses the patients viral load.
“If you can do those three things you shouldn’t actually have any new infections,” Dr. Corneil said.
However one of the problems is that though doctors know where the high prevalence of HIV infections lie — Corneil noted gay men, sex workers, drug users, Aboriginals, immigrants and refugees — there is another 20 per cent out there that doesn’t know they have HIV, and doesn’t fit into those categories.
“We’ve moved from a risk activity type of screening for HIV to actually screening everybody for HIV,” he said. “There’s an education campaign for physicians and health care providers around how to begin screening people in a different way.”
He said 25 years ago an HIV diagnosis was the equivalent of a death sentence, but advances in treatment have transformed HIV into a chronic, manageable disease.
“It is much better to know you are HIV positive than not to know, because the treatment is remarkable,” he said.
The treatment reduces the level of HIV in the blood to undetectable levels thus improving the health of people with HIV, and decreases the level of HIV in sexual fluids to undetectable levels thus reducing the likelihood of HIV transmission by more than 95 per cent.
Development of programs like STOP HIV/AIDS have expanded HIV testing, identifying more people infected with the disease and enabling them to get proper, life-saving treatment.
STOP HIV/AIDS began in 2009 as a four-year, $48-million pilot in Vancouver’s inner city and Prince George. The pilot strategy involved widespread HIV testing and earlier access to highly active antiretroviral therapy to those medically eligible.
In 2012, the Province of British Columbia announced $19.9 million in annual funding to expand the initiative throughout B.C.
Approximately 77,000 Canadians are currently living with HIV, representing an increase of 5,700 people (eight per cent) since 2011. An estimated 18,500 people living with HIV in Canada remain undiagnosed and unaware of their HIV status.