Progress for tomorrow

published on January 26, 2016 by Kelsey Litwin in The Link

HIV/AIDS Lecturer Advocates for Safe Injection Sites

“Quebec has been, for many years, a beacon of progressive values,” said Dr. M-J Milloy, epidemiologist from the University of British Columbia.

This statement comes from a time of reflection during his undergrad at McGill, when he saw Quebec as a province that was open to new ideas, eager to embrace new methods of tackling not-so-new issues.

In particular, Milloy focuses his work on one issue that, anecdotally, some say links to Quebec right from its beginning: HIV/AIDS.

He will be returning to Montreal on March 10 to share how he thinks Quebec’s progressive nature can help set a new precedent for HIV/AIDS prevention at an upcoming installment of Concordia’s HIV/AIDS Public Lecture Series.

The Quebec connection stems from the myth of patient zero, a man named Gaetan Dugas who – it was speculated – first brought the HIV virus into North America during the early 1980s. He was a flight attendant from Quebec City.

In 1984, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study published in the American Journal of Medicine explored the origins of HIV in North America, tracing reported cases of the virus back to Dugas. The theory was that Dugas, who was painted as a sexually promiscuous gay man, brought the virus back with him from Africa and subsequently spread it in illicit underground gay bars and bathhouses.

HIV, short for human immunodeficiency virus, weakens the immune system and can develop into the AIDS after an incubation period, if left untreated. The median incubation period, according to the University of California San Francisco, is estimated at about ten years. The disease, acquired immunodeficiency syndrome or AIDS, will then destroy its host’s immune system.

“That host is us,” explained Milloy. Even more direly, he elaborated “the AIDS disease leads to death in 100 per cent of cases.” Since its discovery in 1981 it has been the cause of death for more than 30 million people globally.

The origin of HIV/AIDS in North America has since been disputed – the patient zero theory was dismissed in 2007, as the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published a hypothesis that claimed that the genetic origin of the virus in North America was transmitted from Africa to Haiti in 1966, and then to the U.S. in 1969. What is not disputed is its prominence.

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