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.

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.

“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.

“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.”

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.

“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.

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