NEW YORK CITY – The World Health Organization (WHO) has just released recommendations regarding earlier anti-retroviral treatment of AIDS patients. Recent research indicates that an Anti-Retroviral treatment (ARV) administered in the earlier stages of infection can help HIV-infected persons live longer and in better health, while substantially reducing the risk of transmission.
AIDS remains one of the major health challenges worldwide, with 31.4 to 35.9 million people living with the disease across the globe in 2011, according to a UNAIDS report. With nearly 1 in 20 adults HIV-positive, Sub-Saharan Africa remains the region the most affected by the disease, accounting for 68% of HIV-positive adults worldwide.
While the overall number of HIV-positive persons has fallen by more than 25 percent in ten years (2001-2011), there is still much progress to be made as 1.7 million people died from AIDS in 2011 alone. According to the WHO, the new approach to treating HIV-infected patients earlier could prevent 3 million AIDS-related deaths and 3.5 million new infections between now and 2025. According to the French newspaper Le Monde, this means that 26 million people should be receiving ARV treatment, a figure well above the 2010 target of 17 million people.
In reality, between 2011 and 2012 an additional 1.6 million people received ARV treatment, bringing the number of people effectively treated for AIDS to a total of 9.7 million according to the WHO.
In 2010, the WHO recommended systematic AIDS treatment for people whose CD4 lymphocyte count dropped below 350 cells per mm3 of blood, a level at which the immune system is already badly damaged. The new WHO guideline for earlier treatment (when the CD4 count is 500 cells/mm3) comes in light of recent advances in the field of AIDS research and is aimed at starting treatment before the immune system becomes too weakened.
The WHO also advises systematically treating children under 5, pregnant and breast-feeding women, and all HIV-positive individuals who have an uninfected partner. Indeed, there is a large body of evidence that ARV treatment reduces the risk of transmission to uninfected people.
The 7th International AIDS Society (IAS) Conference, which kicked off on June 30th in Kuala Lumpur, is the occasion to remind researchers and the public alike of the extent of AIDS propagation worldwide. The several case studies presented at the conference show that AIDS remains a disease transmitted mainly through sexual relations and drug use.
Thus, the WHO calls for international mobilization and increased awareness in order to halve sexual transmission by 2015, and ensure that “no children are born with HIV by 2015.”
– Lauren Yeh