HIV/AIDS lecture series concludes with focus on harm reduction

published on March 12, 2016 by Xavier Richer Vis in McGill Daily

On March 10 McGill University hosted the final event of Concordia University’s Community Lecture Series, “Ending HIV/AIDS.” The main speaker was M-J Milloy, an infectious disease epidemiologist and assistant professor at the University of British Columbia and Principal Investigator of the AIDS Care Cohort to Evaluate Access to Survival Services (ACCESS). Although the talk was called “Ending HIV/AIDS” Milloy focused largely on HIV, speaking about the rise and decline of its prevalence in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

Milloy said in his talk that in the mid-1990s, Vancouver saw the worst HIV outbreak ever observed in the Western world: within 12 months, the level of HIV infection in Vancouver’s Eastside went from 1 in 100 individuals to 1 in 4. Milloy said that this rise stemmed primarily from a shift from heroin, which is often injected up to five times a day, to cocaine, which can be injected up to 50 times a day. A rise in the demand of needles led to a decrease in supply, encouraging needle sharing.

Those hit hardest by the crisis were men who had sex with men (MSM), Indigenous peoples, people who were incarcerated, and other disadvantaged groups, a trend that has persisted to this day, noted Milloy.

“The vast majority of people we work with are marginalized and there exist many barriers in their accessing social services,” said Genevieve Fortin, a representative from CACTUS Montreal, a Montreal community organization with needle exchange and collection services. “Many suffer from homelessness, mental health issues, and live in extremely precarious situations,” Fortin continued.

“What our scientists and I have concluded is that what really happened in Vancouver was not as much a story of drug use as much as it was a story about deadly public policy,” said Milloy.

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