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Opinion Editorial

Northern Health expands number of sites introducing new HIV testing initiative

July 09, 2014

Written by Dr. Abu Hamour

Medical Lead Blood Borne Pathogens Services

Northern Health

Northern Health is introducing a new health care initiative in Vanderhoof, Fort St. James and Fraser Lake that complements our current strategies to reduce the spread of HIV throughout northern B.C.

 

The initiative, which will see medical staff offer HIV testing as part of regular patient care, is currently being introduced in St. John Hospital in Vanderhoof, Stuart Lake Hospital in Fort St. James and the Fraser Lake Community Health Centre in Fraser Lake.

We’re undertaking this new initiative in efforts to reduce the impact of HIV/AIDS through effective screening and early detection, and to provide timely access to high quality and safe HIV/AIDS care and treatment.

The new practice follows the 2014 HIV testing guidelines developed by B.C.’s Office of the Provincial Health Officer. These guidelines recommend that everyone between 18 to 70 years of age, in both acute care settings and the community, be offered an HIV test every five years as part of routine health screening.

In Prince George, the University Hospital of Northern B.C. began the routine offer of HIV screening in December 2013 to all patients who were having blood work taken while admitted to the hospital for another reason. Other Northern Health acute care facilities scheduled to begin routine HIV testing through 2014 include the Lakes District Hospital and Health Centre in Burns Lake with the goal to introduce routine HIV testing in all remaining northern B.C. communities by 2016.

Why are we introducing routine HIV testing? It’s because HIV is an important health issue with 300 to 400 new diagnoses made in BC every year. The number of new infections is not declining — and people are not being diagnosed early enough. Sixty per cent of HIV patients are diagnosed late when they already have advanced disease. Evidence also shows that 25 per cent of people living with HIV are not aware of their status.

As with all medical interventions, every patient has the right to refuse an HIV test. That said, the routine offering of HIV testing has already proven to be successful in the Lower Mainland where Vancouver Coastal Health introduced the initiative in October 2011. In fact, up to 94 per cent of patients at three major hospitals in Vancouver who are offered an HIV test as part of routine hospital care say ‘Yes’, because they appreciate knowing that they’re not being singled out to take the test.

Knowing your HIV status is a critical component for your health care. As health care providers, knowing our patients’ HIV status affects how we prevent and treat infections, cancers and even which vaccinations to consider.

 

If you’re tested and are diagnosed with HIV, you should begin treatment as early as possible. Why? Because early HIV treatment prolongs lives and improves people’s quality of life. People taking HIV medications can now have healthy lives, relationships, and children. That’s because HIV is now considered a manageable chronic disease and not an automatic death sentence.

 

The routine offering of HIV testing initiative is funded by B.C.’s Ministry of Health. It’s part of the From Hope to Health: Towards an AIDS-free Generation initiative, formerly known as the STOP HIV/AIDS pilot project. Many of you are familiar with Northern Health’s STOP HIV/AIDS education and awareness campaign; one of our main goals was and is to normalize HIV testing, by urging everyone who is sexually active or using injection drugs to get an HIV test.

We’re hoping that our routine offering of HIV testing initiative will finally take us to that next step, where HIV testing becomes the norm in health care and not the exception. But we need your help. Talk to your friends and family and encourage everyone to take an HIV test. Explain that routine HIV testing of all adults reduces stigma, allows early diagnosis and treatment of HIV infection — and saves lives.

Help us work towards an AIDS-free generation. Help us spread the word about HIV — not the disease. For more information, please visit: www.hiv101.ca

Media Contact:

NH media line: 250-961-7724