Northern Health and the Province of B.C. addressed the challenges of the spread of HIV through the award-winning STOP HIV/AIDS pilot project. STOP — which stands for Seek and Treat for Optimal Prevention — was a four-year, provincially-funded initiative, running from 2010 to 2013 in Prince George and Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. The B.C. government committed $48 million to the project, supporting Northern Health, Vancouver Coastal Health, the Provincial Health Services Authority, Providence Health Care, and the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS.
Northern Health’s STOP HIV/AIDS pilot project was an ambitious multi-media, community-outreach collaboration between Northern Health, its community partners and the Province of B.C. The project aimed to normalize HIV testing; educate and bring awareness to northerners about the benefits of early HIV testing and treatment; and ultimately reduce the spread of HIV throughout northern BC.
The four-year pilot project began in 2010 to educate the public on safe sexual behaviour and the risks of certain types of drug use. Northern Health’s Preventive Public Health department worked extensively with community partners, actively supporting the HIV-positive population, connecting them with existing services, and developing new testing initiatives.
The STOP project’s education and awareness component, launched in May 2012, featured an aggressive online and traditional advertising campaign, with messaging encouraging early HIV testing and treatment. The public campaign was a true collaborative effort, with Northern Health staff forming an advisory group with key community partners to develop messaging speaking to all age groups, genders and sexual preferences.
The STOP HIV/AIDS pilot project has resulted in a number of significant improvements in practice and process surrounding HIV care within Northern Health, all of which can be considered both innovative and creative. Some of the measurable results include:
• Increased HIV testing throughout Northern Health;
• Increased access to treatment;
• Increased supports for individuals in treatment;
• Improved collaboration between Northern Health and its community partners;
• Improved relationships with First Nations organizations; and
• A successful public education and awareness campaign calling on northerners to seek early HIV testing and treatment.
The B.C. provincial government increased its funding commitment to continue and expand the STOP project to all of British Columbia’s health authorities. This guaranteed funding support represents the government’s validation of the STOP pilot project and recognizes that it can benefit communities throughout B.C.
The STOP HIV/AIDS pilot project has led to an increased understanding and a significant expansion of services to address the prevention and care of HIV/AIDS throughout Northern Health. Northern Health is now building a robust system of services designed to support people living with HIV and hepatitis C.