Panama adopts made-in-B.C. HIV Treatment as Prevention strategy

Dec 19 2017, 9:44 am

Panama has become the latest country to adopt British Columbia’s HIV Treatment as Prevention strategy.

Panama and the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS (BC-CfE) have signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to partner in the global fight against HIV/AIDS through the implementation of the made-in-B.C. strategy.

Panama becomes the first Central American country to embrace Treatment as Prevention, and joins China, France, and Brazil in adopting the strategy as their national HIV/AIDS policy. The strategy has also been implemented by cities across the United States, including San Francisco, New York City, and Washington, D.C.

“The momentum continues to build to implement the Treatment as Prevention strategy to save lives, prevent infections, and, in the long-term, save money,” said Dr. Julio Montaner, director of the BC-CfE. “I believe this represents a first step in other countries in Central America and the Caribbean adopting Treatment as Prevention and moving toward an HIV- and AIDS-free generation.”

The Treatment as Prevention strategy involves the widespread offer of HIV testing and immediate offer and use of highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) to people living with HIV who are medically eligible and willing. Recently published research from the BC-CfE found the expansion of HIV treatment in B.C. has led to sustained and profound decreases in morbidity, mortality, and new cases of HIV. This further demonstrates that the province’s Treatment as Prevention strategy should be applied in other settings around the world. To complement the strategy, B.C. has also supported harm reduction programs like needle distribution and recovery, which are integral in preventing HIV and hepatitis C, and engaging vulnerable populations.

“British Columbia has been an international leader in developing a strategy proven to combat HIV and AIDS,” said Dr. Javier Díaz, Panama Minister of Health. “This partnership will assist us in promoting and collaborating on health priorities affecting the citizens of Panama and the global community in relation to HIV and AIDS.”

The MOU establishes a collaboration to develop new research and HIV programs, and creates an HIV fellowship program that will allow Panamanian HIV scientists to come to Vancouver to work with BC-CfE researchers and clinicians. The BC-CfE will provide science and support in the development and evaluation of Panama’s Treatment as Prevention program.

“We’re excited to see British Columbia’s strategy being embraced by the government of Panama,” said Terry Lake, B.C. Minister of Health. “This new partnership speaks to the tremendous work our government and entire community have done to ensure the Treatment as Prevention strategy is a success for all people living with or at risk of contracting HIV. Panama will be a model to emulate for other Central American countries and the Caribbean, and indeed the rest of the world. ”

Panama, which has a population of 3.8 million, has an estimated 17,000 people living with HIV. Comparatively, there are approximately 12,000 people living with HIV in B.C., which has a population of 4.6 million.

“HIV and AIDS is a global problem, and we’re committed to exchanging science, research, and expertise to benefit people living with HIV,” said Dr. Rolando Barrios, assistant director of the BC-CfE. “We look forward to working with Panama on the implementation of Treatment as Prevention.”

Treatment as Prevention was first endorsed by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) in 2010. In 2012, the U.S. identified it as a key strategy to achieve an AIDS-free generation, and in July 2013, the World Health Organization fully incorporated the strategy in their new Global HIV Treatment Guidelines.

Image: HIV ribbon via Shutterstock