Vancouver, BC [October 5, 2015] HIV testing in parts of Canada remains based on “perceived risk” and could be keeping people living with the disease from discovering their status. A new study, based on the largest Canadian database of people living with HIV, finds nearly half of those surveyed started antiretroviral treatment (ART) when they had already reached an AIDS-defining illness or a weakened immune system.
The study found that:
From 2000 to 2012, 48% started ART with low CD4 counts, the indicator of a weakened immune system.
Focussing on the time period between 2008 and 2012, 68% of participants initiated ART when the immune system was already weakened.
Women, older adults, and individuals who inject drugs are among those more likely to start treatment late.
Over the study period, there was a shift towards earlier treatment initiation, reflective of more modern treatment guidelines and better treatment options.
“CD4 counts at ART initiation remain below treatment guidelines,” said Angela Cescon, a researcher with the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS (BC-CfE), medical student, and lead author of the study. “Diagnosing patients at the earliest possible stage of HIV infection is critical to optimizing the benefits of HIV treatment.”
Early initiation of ART is essential to lowering the risk of HIV-associated illnesses, extending life expectancy and reducing onward HIV transmission. Under the Treatment as Prevention® strategy, pioneered at the BC-CfE, an individual will be offered HIV treatment immediately upon diagnosis. In September, the World Health Organization released new guidelines calling for the immediate treatment of all individuals diagnosed with HIV, regardless of CD4 count.