Doctors and nurses at Vancouver Coastal Health and Providence Health Care have diagnosed more than 30 patients with HIV in the first year of an HIV testing pilot in Vancouver hospitals.

Starting in October 2011, staff at St. Paul’s (SPH), Vancouver General (VGH), Mount Saint Joseph (MSJ) and UBC (UBCH) hospitals began offering HIV tests to patients upon admission when other blood tests are ordered. This method of testing is one of the strategies of the successful four year Seek and Treat for Optimal Prevention of the HIV/AIDS (STOP HIV/AIDS) program, which the Government of B.C. recently announced will be expanded provincially in 2013.

“HIV does not discriminate,” says Dr. Patricia Daly, Chief Medical Health Officer, Vancouver Coastal Health. “The patients we have diagnosed are women, men, seniors, and are from a range of communities. This reinforces our recommendation that all adults should have an HIV test as part of their routine health care.”
Prior to this pilot, usually only those at known high risk for HIV, such as those who use intravenous drugs, were offered the test. This pilot has shown that routinely recommending an HIV test upon admission to a hospital is effective at diagnosing people with HIV and linking people to care.

“Evidence shows that most people newly diagnosed with HIV have had many prior interactions with the health care system that were missed opportunities for diagnosis,” says Dr. Réka Gustafson, Medical Health Officer and Medical Director of Communicable Disease Control for Vancouver Coastal Health. “We can’t stress enough how very crucial early treatment is for those infected. While HIV is a chronic infection, early treatment prolongs and improves people’s lives and reduces transmission to others.”
An HIV positive person on their prescribed medication is up to 96 per cent less likely to transmit the infection. It is estimated there are 3,500 people in British Columbia who are infected with HIV but don’t know it.

More than 5,000 patients in Vancouver hospitals had an HIV test between October 2011 and October 2012. Testing has been well received by patients. Approximately 94% of patients accepted the test when asked by their physician or health care provider.