BY HEIDI ULRICHSEN
The medical director of the HAVEN program for HIV patients at Sudbury Regional Hospital, says people with the deadly virus are living longer thanks to powerful anti-retroviral drugs.
Dr. Roger Sandre spoke recently about the sexually transmitted virus at the Northern Ontario School of Medicine.
Back in the 1980s, contracting the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) was a death sentence. People with HIV usually ended up with AIDS, the serious immunity disease stemming from the virus, after about 10 years and died soon afterwards. But these days, thanks to anti-retroviral drugs, there is a lot more hope.
HIV positive people with access to anti-retroviral drugs can expect to live healthier, longer lives, and even return to work.
About 1,500 people died of AIDS in 1996; in 2003, that number dropped to just 28.
Dec. 1 is World AIDS Day.
"Since about 1996, we've been using a combination of drugs to manage HIV infections," the doctor said.
"Patients are living longer and healthier on treatments of anti-retroviral drugs. They prevent the ongoing progression of the disease. The drugs suppress the virus so that patients' immune system can recover."
Many HIV positive people taking the anti-retroviral drugs never develop AIDS, said Sandre.
But that doesn't mean there's a cure for the virus. Thousands of Canadians are being infected with HIV every year, he said, and this has to stop.
"There is increasing education in schools and the population as a who regarding HIV. Unfortunately, there continues to be new infections despite educational efforts," said the doctor.
"Educational initiatives have to continue and improve. It's very important to prevent transmission of disease. This disease is a deadly one, and its not curable."
Right now, researchers are working on vaccine for HIV, he said. They are also developing new anti-retroviral drugs with less severe side effects.
"We need more drugs with less side-effects, and that are easier to take," said Sandre.
The doctor feels horribly for the people of Africa, who are being ravaged by AIDS without much access to the life-saving anti-retroviral drugs.
"The AIDS crisis in Africa is extremely serious. It will require a worldwide effort to control, and a huge amount of money and collaboration between countries," he said.
"Seeing the African crisis makes us feel very rich here. We have so much at our disposal to treat people. There is an unfair equity between nations."
Sudbury's Access AIDS Network will hold a breakfast this Thursday to mark World AIDS Day. The breakfast will be held at Sudbury's Howard Johnson Hotel (on Brady Street) starting at 7:15 am.