(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has given the ‘thumbs up’ to the ground-breaking work of a leading Argentinian-Canadian doctor who pioneered the use of Antiretroviral drugs to treat and prevent HIV infections. Dr Julio Montaner, who is director of the British Colombia Centre for Excellence in HIV-AIDS and a special advisor to the UNAIDS programme, met with the Pope and other top Vatican officials on Wednesday to seek support for the goal of extending the life-saving treatments to as many HIV-infected people as possible over the next five years.
Montaner, who was the founding researcher for the HIV department at St Paul’s hospital in the University of British Colombia, revealed that the UN is shortly expected to announce it has achieved its Millennium Development Goal of reversing the spread of HIV by 2015. He told Philippa Hitchen the Catholic Church continues to play a vital role in the work of rolling out improved treatment and care to the poorest and most marginalised communities….
Dr Montaner explained how, with the support of the provincial government in British Columbia, his team was able to discover and implement the so-called Antiretroviral ‘triple therapy cocktail’ which stopped the progression of HIV infection to AIDS and premature death. The result, he said, is that a young person who becomes infected with HIV today can be treated with these drugs and have a near normal life expectancy of around 75 years.
An even bigger breakthrough came , Dr Montaner continued, when researchers noticed that, despite increases in risky sexual behaviour among HIV-infected persons, the rate of new infections among those treated with the ARV drugs continued to decrease. This lead them to the conclusion that the treatment was not only stopping progression of the disease but also stopping transmission of the once-deadly HIV virus.
Dr Montaner also said the UNAIDS agency is expected to announce shortly that the Millennium Development Goal of having 15 million people on Antiretroviral treatment by 2015 has been met. Looking ahead to the year 2020, he said the new target is to have 90% of HIV-infected people worldwide diagnosed, with 90% of them on treatment and 90% of them showing a suppression of the HIV virus.
Dr Montaner added that the Catholic Church, with its proven outreach to the poorest and most isolated communities, is a vital partner in this work. Pope Francis, he said, gave the ‘thumbs up’ during the meeting he had to explain about these new goals of treatment and prevention. Dr Montaner said the hope is that the lessons learned in this fight against the AIDS pandemic can also be applied to the struggle against other infectious diseases, especially in the developing world.