VANCOUVER – A new study has found that Canadians diagnosed with HIV are living longer than ever, but continued inequalities in life expectancy across the country have one researcher calling for a national HIV/AIDS strategy.
The study, from the Canadian Observational Cohort Collaboration, indicated the overall life expectancy of Canadians undergoing antiretroviral treatment for the AIDS-causing virus had climbed to 65 years – about a 16-year jump since 2000.
But while those increases were felt across the board, life expectancy was shown to have improved more for men than for women. People with a history of drug use and those with First Nations ancestry also didn’t experience as much of an increase.
The study did not explore the reasons behind the differences, but the study’s principal investigator suggested socioeconomic disparities and varying access to treatment as two possibilities.
The federal government would do well to adopt a nation-wide strategy similar to the one in place in British Columbia, with its emphasis on early treatment and prevention, said Robert Hogg a senior scientist at the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS.
“There needs to be some kind of national commitment and right now there is not,” he said. “What happens is because of that you get huge disparities in terms of lifetime to some extent have not gone away.”
While an increase in life expectancy is positive, Hogg said treatment providers must nonetheless remain vigilant in ensuring that therapy reaches everyone, particularly vulnerable populations.
“It really stresses the point of getting people on antiretroviral therapy earlier or as soon as possible,” he said about the research.
“With the current guidelines there’s no reason for people to wait.”
Previous wisdom suggested holding off on antiretroviral therapy immediately following an HIV-positive diagnosis because of the threat of toxicity and increasing drug resistance.
But more recent research has eroded those earlier findings and strengthened the case for early treatment.
Improvements in diagnosis and treatment options such as these have transformed what was once an all-but-certain death sentence into an increasingly manageable chronic illness.
Research has shown that early treatment not only improves the health of people living with HIV, but also reduces onward transmission of the disease.
The BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS is Canada’s largest HIV/AIDS research, treatment and education facility and is based in Vancouver.
The Canadian Observational Cohort Collaboration, which is housed at the B.C. research centre, is an ongoing study of more than 10,000 people living with HIV/AIDS across B.C., Ontario and Quebec. It has recently expanded into Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and Labrador.