New study to address HIV-related deaths in Downtown Eastside

More than $750K will go to a new study addressing barriers to injection drug users (IDUs) accessing essential HIV or hepatitis C medical care, the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS formally announced today.

The five-year study is funded by a grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. The funding announcement follows a recent grant from the U.S. Department of Health to monitor the rise of drug-resistant HIV among users of crystal methamphetamine in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

In B.C., all anti-HIV medications are distributed at no cost to eligible HIV-infected individuals through the Centre's Drug Treatment Program. In 2003, the Centre revealed that one third of people who died from HIV-related causes in B.C. did not receive life-saving treatment. Those who did not receive essential treatment were most likely to be living in the "IDU HIV epicentre" of the Downtown Eastside. A Centre study published this month reveals the lowest life expectancy for HIV-positive individuals in B.C. are IDUs not receiving anti-HIV treatment.

Centre researchers suggest Vancouver's health-care system may face a crisis over the next few years if large numbers of injection drug users, infected with HIV in the mid-1990s, do not start accessing HIV treatment. It's believed 35 per cent of the city's estimated 15,000 IDUs are currently HIV infected.

The new Centre research initiative aims to improve access to life-saving HIV and HCV treatments, says Dr. Thomas Kerr, a Centre investigator.

"There are a significant number of marginalized people who have been successfully treated with drug therapy," says Kerr. "Expanding novel healthcare interventions and addiction treatment strategies is imperative to address the lack of access."

The study will develop a new cohort of approximately 1,000 HIV-infected individuals with a history of injection drug use. The study will compare IDUs receiving and not receiving treatment and examine the influence of law enforcement, addiction treatment levels, and psychological variables on treatment access and adherence, as well as socio-economic issues (eg. unstable housing).

Access to essential care is a key component in the fight against HIV and hepatitis C among IDUs, says Dr. Bhagirath Singh, Scientific Director of the CIHR Institute of Infection and Immunity.

"This research project will provide better understanding of the factors affecting IDUs' access to care. This will lead to the development of more effective interventions and improved prevention and treatment initiatives targeting this high-risk population," says Singh.

The research staff will actively refer HIV-positive IDUs not receiving medical care into appropriate treatment.

The Centre also recently received a $250,000 US grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to study the use of crystal meth and the increasing emergence of drug-resistant HIV. The two-year study, funded by the department's National Institutes of Health, will monitor IDUs with a history of smoking or injecting crystal meth while receiving anti-HIV treatment.

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About the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR)
The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) is the Government of Canada's agency for health research. CIHR's mission is to create new scientific knowledge and to catalyze its translation into improved health, more effective health services and products, and a strengthened Canadian health care system. Composed of 13 Institutes, CIHR provides leadership and support to close to 10,000 health researchers and trainees across Canada. www.cihr-irsc.gc.ca


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