HIV treatment is, for the first time in history, being used by more than half of all individuals infected with the virus, said the UN in a report released on Thursday. A record 19.5 million people out of the 36.5 million affected around the world are now accessing HIV treatment in the form of antiretroviral therapy.
The UN also says that AIDS deaths have reduced by half since a peak in 2005. This is largely a result of increased accessibility and availability of pharmaceuticals used to treat HIV and AIDS. Said the report, “We are seeing a downward trend in new HIV infections, especially in eastern and southern Africa, where new HIV infections have declined by a third in just six years. This good news is a result of the combined effect of a rapid scale-up of treatment and existing HIV prevention interventions.”
What is HIV treatment?
HIV medicines slow the progression of the virus in your body. HIV is what is known as a retrovirus, and the drugs used for HIV treatment are called antiretrovirals. Though these drugs won’t cure HIV, HIV treatment reduces the risk of sexual transmission of the virus to a partner, and can improve an individual’s overall health and quality of life. Antiretroviral therapy reduces the amount of virus in your system, and is recommended for all people living with HIV regardless of how long ago they contracted the virus.
HIV treatment is important to help your body fight HIV and prevent the virus from progressing to AIDS. Most people living with HIV who do not consistently use HIV treatment antiretrovirals eventually develop AIDS.
Why is the increase in use of HIV medications significant?
This development shows how HIV treatment and access to drugs has improved just over the last 10-12 years. Life expectancies for individuals with the virus have increased significantly—and in some of the hardest hit countries, life expectancy as a whole has improved. For example, in eastern and southern Africa, life expectancy rose by nearly 10 years from 2006 to 2016.
According to the UN report, “This acceleration of HIV testing and treatment—within a comprehensive approach that includes condoms, voluntary medical male circumcision, pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), and efforts to protect human rights and establish an enabling environment for service delivery—has contributed to a 32% global decline in AIDS-related deaths and a 16% global decline in new HIV infections between 2010 and 2016.” This brings them closer to their 90-90-90 goals: by 2020, the UN aims to have 90% of people living with HIV to know their status, 90% of all people diagnosed with HIV to have access to antiretroviral HIV treatment, and 90% of all people receiving antiretroviral therapy to have viral suppression.
What does this mean for the future of AIDS and HIV treatment and prevention?
A cure for AIDS has still not arrived, making HIV prevention and treatment critical. Wrote Michel Sidibe, UNAIDS Executive Director, “Our quest to end AIDS has only just begun.”
While this is a significant development in the fight against AIDS, more work needs to be done to prevent the transmission of the virus and improve treatment outcomes, especially for patients in developing countries. It also means that pharmaceutical companies worldwide have the opportunity to help improve the availability and affordability of HIV treatment drugs for all patients.
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