Feature story

British Columbia repurposes its AIDS Ward, opening new opportunities for HIV treatment

28 May 2014

They called it Ward 10C. Never “the AIDS ward.” But it was understood that this was the place where patients went if they had HIV. Stigma and despair overshadowed the limited medical interventions that could be provided. Opened in 1997, the ward saw an average of one AIDS-related death every day during its darkest days.  

But today, in a historic symbolic move, St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver announced that Ward 10C has outlived its role as the place where life ended.

British Columbia Premier Christy Clark and other officials led an official ceremony on Tuesday lauding the ward’s metamorphosis as a sign that AIDS is no longer a death sentence, and that HIV is virtually under control in the province.

The ward’s new purpose will be to provide cutting-edge care and treatment for people living with HIV, as well as treatment related to bacterial and viral infections like chronic hepatitis B and C among people at risk for HIV.

According to the government, AIDS deaths have fallen by more than 80% in the past decade and new HIV infections have been cut by two-thirds in the province.

Julio Montaner, a leader in the movement for early treatment and his team at the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, showed that by receiving early antiretroviral treatment, people living with HIV can not only survive and thrive—but also reduce their risk of transmitting the virus to partners.

At Tuesday’s ceremony on Ward 10C, Dr Montaner said that when he proposed HIV treatment could prevent new infections, “I was not a popular kid, they told me I was crazy, not only in my backyard but all around the world—now we are seeing AIDS begin to disappear. We did it and everybody else can do it.”

“Thanks to the expansion of access to treatment, people are living longer, healthier lives and we’re starting to see HIV clinics close, it’s a significant step towards ending the epidemic.” said Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of UNAIDS. At the ceremony, he also announced Dr Montaner’s appointment as UNAIDS’ Global Advisor for Treatment.

Mr Sidibé praised Premier Clark for what she and her government have done for the AIDS response in British Columbia and internationally. And he reminded the audience that some 18 million people, in low- and middle-income countries, still do not have access to antiretroviral treatment, “Only with global solidarity, can we ensure that no-one is left behind.”