With his groundbreaking research in the areas of HIV treatment and drug addiction, Dr. Evan Wood has changed national and international HIV treatment guidelines and policies for persons with drug addiction.
Dr. Wood is a professor of medicine at the University of British Columbia and Director of the Urban Health Research Initiative at the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS. “I began my career with a PhD in clinical epidemiology, but after an early midlife crisis, I decided to continue on and study medicine,” says Dr. Wood. His winding background is evident in the multidisciplinary research he does. With support from the CIHR and a Canada Research Chair, he has published over 350 papers covering a range of topics including efficacy of antiretroviral therapies, access to treatment services, at-risk and street-involved youth, and illicit drug use.
Dr. Wood is a pioneer in the field of HIV prevention and his work has broad reaching impacts. His research, published in the British Medical Journal, demonstrated reducing community HIV plasma viral load could reduce HIV incidence; introducing us to the idea of treatment = prevention. His work on improving access to HIV treatment to reduce mother-to-child HIV transmission led several pharmaceutical companies to offer free antiretroviral treatment to mothers across Africa. He has been researching the impact of medically supervised safer injecting sites in reducing drug-related harm while increasing access to detox services for drug users. His research was the first to clearly demonstrate the positive impacts of safer injecting facilities for injecting drug users in Canada. This research has been instrumental in the development and continuation of Insite, a supervised injecting site in Vancouver that has saved lives and health care dollars.
Dr. Wood’s most recent project is the At Risk Youth Study funded by a CIHR operating grant. The research examines the risk factors leading to regular drug injection in youths, including homelessness, neighborhood of residence, childhood sexual abuse and childhood trauma. He hopes the results of this study will expand evidence-based addiction treatment programs for youth facing challenges from alcohol or drug addiction. “We are spending too much money on the downstream consequences of untreated addiction,” explains Dr. Wood. “We need investments that can prevent these downstream costs as well as all the suffering that individuals and families face.”
Dr. Wood points out that stigmatization of drug addiction can be the biggest challenge in his research. He has been a voice for evidence based policies rather than ones based on negative perceptions of drug use. “Evidence-based medicine and evidence-based public health should be at the forefront of our thinking when addressing complex health issues,” says Dr. Wood. “Canadian scientists need to continue to show leadership and advocate for evidence-based policies.” He points out that patients can be some of the greatest advocates as well; “I’m inspired by their resilience in wanting to find wellness and to advocate for the health care needs of their peers.”
Dr. Wood’s work continues to inspire him because he sees it making a difference “In recent years, we’ve seen a 90% reduction in new HIV cases among addicted persons in British Columbia and a similar reduction in AIDS cases,” explains Dr. Wood. “This has saved tens of millions of dollars and greatly reduced suffering.”
While he continues his work to improve the health and wellbeing of street involved youth and people who use illicit drugs and alcohol, Dr. Wood is teaching others to do the same. As the founding physician director of one of Canada’s first interdisciplinary addiction medicine training programs—the St. Paul’s Hospital Goldcorp Fellowship in Addiction Medicine—Dr. Wood and his colleagues are training physicians, residents and medical students at Vancouver’s St. Paul’s Hospital in appropriate, up-to-date and evidence-based addiction care and prevention methods.
The Canadian Association for HIV Research (CAHR), the CIHR HIV/AIDS Research Initiative, the Canadian Foundation for AIDS Research (CANFAR), the CIHR Canadian HIV Trials Network (CTN) and the Canadian HIV Vaccine Initiative (CHVI) Research and Development Alliance Coordinating Office (ACO), would like to congratulate Dr. Wood for his significant contributions to our understanding of the HIV epidemic. His work is part of a larger Canadian research effort that is making a difference in the lives of those affected by HIV in Canada and around the world.