Pioneering B.C. HIV/AIDS researcher honoured on new Canada Post stamp

A renowned British Columbia doctor is being celebrated for his pioneering work fighting HIV/AIDS with a new commemorative stamp.

Dr. Julio Montaner is one of six distinguished Canadian doctors and researchers whose faces will grace the new run of stamps from Canada Post.

Read more: B.C. HIV/AIDS researcher up for hall of fame

Montaner, who moved to Vancouver from his native Argentina in 1981, is recognized for his research work that helped turn HIV/AIDS from a death sentence to a manageable condition, with near-normal life expectancy.

Montaner never planned to stay in Canada, but met his future wife while practicing at Vancouver’s St. Paul’s Hospital, where he still works today.

1:50 First person cured of HIV appears in Vancouver

First person cured of HIV appears in Vancouver

“Very quickly HIV became a concern at St. Paul’s Hospital. As you know, St. Paul’s is at the epicentre for HIV/AIDS in British Columbia,” he told Global News.

Montaner began a modest AIDS research program at the hospital, one with no budget and “half” a staffer — a secretary he shared with another physician.

Read more: Pilot project to combat opioid crisis using HIV-reduction strategies expands across B.C.

“The early days were tremendously painful and difficult. The stigma, discrimination, disinterest on the subject matter, apathy by political leadership and the like — it was all a huge drawback,” he said.

“I must say that with the support of a small and rather committed group of primary care practitioners, specialists, with the support of a very, very committed community, we were able to bring this all together and work towards what eventually became a very successful AIDS program and the seed for the Canadian HIV Trials Network.”

1:04 Ending the stigma of HIV and AIDS

Ending the stigma of HIV and AIDS

More than a decade later, that research program bore major fruit in the form of a three drug cocktail known as “triple therapy.”

The therapy, which was able to suppress viral replication, was the highlight of the 1996 International AIDS conference held in Vancouver.

Read more: Made-in-Canada HIV/AIDS treatment embraced by everyone but Canada

“Triple therapy turned what was an imminent death sentence into a chronic, manageable disease,” he said.

Montaner, who now holds the Order of Canada and Order of B.C., continues to research HIV/AIDS in Vancouver, and remains a vocal advocate for more funding and focus on the disease.

The other stamps in the series honour Dr. Bruce Chown, who helped eliminate rhesus disease; Dr. Balfour Mount, considered the father of palliative care in North America; Dr. M. Vera Peters, who revolutionized the treatment of Hodgkin lymphoma; Dr. James Till and Dr. Ernest McCulloch, who helped lay the foundations of stem cell science.

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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