World AIDS Day, December 1, which is also the start of Aboriginal AIDS Awareness Week in Canada, is a time for reflection; to reflect on what we have achieved and what we still must achieve. To commemorate World AIDS Day, Sexual Health Services (SHS) has launched an educational whiteboard video that provides the latest information on HIV and shows the various ways Ottawa Public Health (OPH) is addressing HIV in the community.
There has been significant progress since the first reported case of AIDS in Canada in March of 1982. Thanks to innovation and research, people with HIV can live longer, healthier lives due to improved access to testing, treatment and a wide range of prevention options. HIV has gone from a fatal illness to a manageable chronic disease – a definite cause for celebration. As a public health unit, OPH is working hard to reduce the number of new HIV cases by using antiretroviral therapy (ART). ART refers to the use of specific medications that have specific inhibitory effects on HIV replication. One of the ways we do this is through the PrEP Clinic. This unique nurse-led program is an excellent example of a community, university and health unit collaboration that provides HIV-negative people with antiviral medications to protect themselves from getting HIV from HIV positive partner(s). Clinic staff also prescribe PEP or post-exposure prophylaxis to individuals who may have been exposed to HIV. This antiviral must be started within 72 hours after a possible exposure.
In 2014, a global target of 90-90-90 was established by UNAIDS and endorsed by Canada. The goal is for 90% of all people living with HIV to know their status, for 90% of those diagnosed to receive antiviral treatment, and for 90% of those on treatment to achieve viral suppression. This global health sector strategy was established to generate momentum towards the elimination of AIDS as a public health threat by 2030. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, at the end of 2016, 86% of the estimated 63,110 persons living with HIV were diagnosed. Of those diagnosed, 81% were estimated to be on treatment and an estimated 91% of persons on treatment had suppressed viral load. In an effort to support the 90-90-90 target and to address HIV locally, OPH:
- Helps link people newly diagnosed with HIV to care through case management.
- Ensures the sexual contacts of people who have been diagnosed with HIV are informed of their possible exposure and testing options.
- Promotes prevention and regular testing through social media campaigns.
- Distributes FREE condoms to Ottawa residents to prevent transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted and bloodborne infections, as well as preventing unwanted pregnancies. Last year, just under one million condoms were distributed locally.
- Provides testing for sexually transmitted and bloodborne infections, including HIV, at our Sexual Health Clinic at 179 Clarence and at our satellite clinics, including GayZone, a community HUB for guys who are into guys. • Provides PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis) to reduce the risk of HIV infection to individuals after possible exposure to HIV.
- Provides a Monday morning PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) clinic to individuals at high risk for HIV.
- Works closely with our Indigenous community partners to ensure appropriate case management care, harm reduction services and referrals to culturally-based programs and services. The number of HIV cases in Ottawa has leveled out, thanks in part, to the increased focus on HIV prevention and treatment by Ottawa Public Health and its community partners but there is still much to do.
On December 1st, let us celebrate how far we have come but let’s not forget what we still need to achieve. Each of you has been provided with a red ribbon pin. Please wear this red ribbon every day from December 1 to December 6 to show solidarity with people living with HIV and to honour those individuals who have lost their lives to AIDS.