A new study by the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS found that 40% of the 1,436 HIV-related deaths between 1197 and 2005 were victims who had never accessed antiretroviral drug therapy.
A disturbing report in the Vancouver newspaper The Province says the untreated group incorporated a large number of the "poor, homeless, mentally ill or drug-addicted."
Antiretroviral drug therapy is available free in British Columbia and can extend lifespans by decades.
The antiretrovirals have improved in the past 10 years from a "burdensome quantity of therapy" requiring "many doses, many side effects" to a once-a-day dose that can prolong a person's life for decades, said Dr. Julio Montaner, director of the centre.
They also prevent those infected from spreading the disease.
"The treatment is free and effective but in reality is not accessible to those who need it most," he said.
He said the problems of mental illness, homelessness, drug addiction and food security have to be tackled first because those infected may not be pursuing treatment of a long-term illness while they're faced with more immediate concerns.
He also said 25 per cent of the [infected] population across Canada isn't aware they're infected with HIV, so the number who die of HIV without treatment would be greater.