VANCOUVER - Walter Hiebert was living in British Columbia in 1988 when he was diagnosed with HIV in the midst of the AIDS epidemic.
He remembers being afraid to open his local newspaper, which reported grim statistics daily as he watched friends around him die.
But almost a quarter-century after getting news that at the time could amount to a death sentence, the man teared up while joining a health ministry announcement that will help others like him.
The government says it's committing $19.9 million in new annual funding to expand a program aimed at ending HIV transmission altogether.
"If it wasn't for Dr. (Julio) Montaner, I wouldn't be alive today," Hiebert said Friday at St. Paul's Hospital in Vancouver, referring to the man who has pushed B.C.'s research and treatment programs forward. "We live in a province that believes in evidence-based science."
The Stop HIV/AIDS program has dramatically slashed HIV infection rates in the province since starting up in 2009 with $48 million for a four-year pilot.
Health Minister Margaret MacDiarmid said Friday the Stop HIV/AIDS pilot, which initially targeted Vancouver and Prince George, is being rolled out throughout the province starting April 1.
The funding will go towards new outreach programs, new HIV testing methods, more front-line staff and will cover other prevention and treatment programs, MacDiarmid said.
Montaner, who leads the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, said the program is working towards eliminating the disease altogether in the province, which is the only place in Canada showing a consistent decline in new HIV diagnoses.
He has long championed the strategy that "treatment is prevention," because it means the virus is stopped before it spreads.
"The time is right, the world is moving in this direction, we are years ahead of the rest of the world," Montaner said.
New HIV infections have decreased from about 900 new cases each year in the mid-1990s, to 289 new cases in 2011.
It's estimated 13,000 British Columbians have HIV/AIDS, while another 3,500 are likely unaware they are living with HIV.
The province offers free medication to infected residents, which a study shows has played a major role in the decline.
Earlier in the week, a team of researchers at the centre lead by Montaner called for a national strategy to provide free access to HIV treatment. They contend the approach will save millions in health-care costs.
The announcement was made on the eve of World AIDS Day.
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6:00 AM: Chicago. Hospital Corpsman Second Class Le’Mikas Lavender, U.S Navy: Getting ready to man the watch.
7:58 AM: Chicago Kevin Irvine: “Dropping my daughter off at school. She loves first grade, but not smiling on cue for a picture! When I came to terms with having HIV 23 years ago, I thought I would never have the chance to be a dad.”
8:15 AM: Ankeny, Iowa. David was born three and a half months premature, weighing two pounds with an HIV viral load of 525,000. “Yes, he is a MIRACLE. He was separated from three siblings who were negative. Their adoptive family didn't want David, because he was positive. His picture says it all. He is my HERO, and at three years old, David has started touching the lives of many. He now has a viral load of 54, and the spirit of an angel. He has taught me and many others valuable lessons already, and I am very, very grateful I was chosen to be his Daddy!” says his adoptive dad, Brian Walker.
10:15 AM: San Francisco, California. David Duran practices his daddy skills with his best friend’s son at the beach: “Today is just like any other day. I’m living my life and enjoying spending time with my loved ones. One day soon, I hope to have a child, and raise him or her in a world without HIV or the stigma that surrounds it.”
11:00 AM: Virginia. Melissa: “Pop my morning Isentress (raltegravir) and head up to the mountains to pick my angel’s first apples. Just another day with HIV.”
11:00 AM: London, England. Garry Brough: “I'm the admin/moderator for the UK's largest network of people with HIV—myHIV.org.uk. Having lived with HIV for over 20 years, I am proud to wear the t-shirt. Every day is a day with HIV, in both my work and personal life. Mostly, they are good days with HIV these days, thankfully.”
1:30 PM: Chicago. Cynthia Holmes: “This is me at my day job as a phone counselor in Chicago, helping people through crises and connecting them to support services. I am HIV-negative, and believe in fighting the disease, promoting prevention, and supporting those affected. I did HIV education in South Africa, safe sex education in online chat rooms, and volunteer with queer at-risk youth. I want to help!”
2:30 PM: New York City. Gustavo Gimenez: “I work in an allergy lab. At today’s meeting, we went over a case presentation of a patient with a complicated drug allergy. Unfortunately, his treatment options were further complicated because he had vertically transmitted HIV. I wanted to show in this picture that this anonymous case became personal, and that it struck a nerve. While I may never know who this patient is, I would like to wish him the best and show that I care.”
2:45 PM: Queenstown, New Zealand. Australian Olympic medalist Ji Wallace: “This photo was taken during some down time while we are on a work trip. I am with my boyfriend, Shaun Baldwin. Queenstown is known as the adrenaline capital of the southern hemisphere so we decided to go up the mountain on the gondolas for mountain luging. I won. In the picture, I am on the left and I am positive. We live in a loving, happy, and healthy serodiscordant relationship.”
:00 PM: Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Debra Fehr: “My HIV-negative partner Victor and me, enjoying a beautiful day in our front yard. We’ve been together eight years. It just keeps getting better!”
Desmond Tutu AIDS Foundation
3:30 PM: Cape Town, South Africa. The staff of the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation, who are working hard on a microbicide trial, take time to celebrate cultural diversity at an event honoring the volunteers who take part in clinical trials.
5:15 PM: New York City. Lee Raines: “Under the ‘How to Survive a Plague’ marquee at the IFC Center in New York City with my friends Rita and Jeff. I’m the guy wearing the ‘HIV POSITIVE’ t-shirt. With gratitude to my comrades, my sisters and brothers in ACT UP, and the AIDS activist movement, who taught me how to survive a plague.”