Early Treatment of HIV May Save 3 Million People by 2025

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Globally, 34 million people were living with HIV at the end of 2011, according to estimates by the World Health Organization. On Sunday, it issued new HIV treatment guidelines which are believed to push the disease into a decline. WHO says, that earlier and simpler antiretroviral therapy can save millions of lives across the globe.

The statistics by the World Health Organization (WHO) shows an unambiguous trend – around 35 million people have already died, out of 70 million people infected with the HIV virus since the beginning of the epidemic. In 2011, more than 34 million adults and children were living with the disease, 69 percent of which, living in Sub-Saharan Africa. This means that nearly 1 in every 20 adults in the region is HIV positive. The new recommendations by WHO say that by 2025 three million more lives could be saved if doctors start patients’ antiretroviral therapy (ART) much earlier. The organization’s estimation shows that earlier ART will also substantially reduce the risk of transmitting the virus to others, preventing an additional 3.5 million new infections. This will completely change the global situation and the increasingly jumping numbers of people diagnosed with AIDS.

ART has been showed to stop the reproduction of the virus in the body, reducing the amount of HIV cells. This helps patients to live longer and healthier lives and also cuts the risk of transmitting the virus. There is still no cure for HIV and prevention and treatment are very important for stopping the global epidemic. According to latest statistics, people living with HIV can remain well and productive for many years, even in low-income countries, thanks to this ART therapy. Until 2003, the high cost of drugs as well as the bad organization and inadequacy of healthcare authorities around the world prevented the wide use of this therapy, especially in the most severely affected low-, or middle-income countries. But in recent years, countries managed to expand the access of the treatment. At the end of the last year, nearly 10 million people were receiving ART therapy, say WHO officials.

The new treatment guidelines say the therapy should start as soon as the patient is diagnosed with HIV. But the United Nations AIDS programme UNAIDS warns that many of those 26 million infected won’t have access to the lifesaving treatment. In many poor countries doctors still wait until the disease has progressed and many symptoms have already occurred, to start treatment. That’s why, WHO is raising awareness not only among practitioners, but also among health authorities and non-governmental organizations for earlier treatment while the immune system is still strong. Another recommendation is providing the therapy to all children under the age of 5, all pregnant and breastfeeding women with HIV and all patients having an uninfected partner, no matter of how developed the infection is.

Experts believe that the new recommendations will increase the overall cost ($23 billion currently) of treating HIV/AIDS in the developing countries by at least 10 percent. But WHO states that this strategy will prove itself cost-effective in the long run.

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