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New WHO HIV Treatment Guidelines Could Prevent 3.5M New Infections By 2025

“Doctors could save three million more lives worldwide by 2025 if they offer AIDS drugs to people with HIV much sooner after they test positive for the virus, the [WHO] said on Sunday,” Reuters reports (Kelland, 6/30). “Recent evidence indicates that earlier [antiretroviral therapy (ART)] will help people with HIV to live longer, healthier lives, and substantially reduce the risk of transmitting HIV to others,” a WHO press release notes, adding that the new guidelines, released on the opening day of the 7th International AIDS Society (IAS) Conference on HIV Pathogenesis, Treatment and Prevention in Kuala Lumpur, could “prevent 3.5 million more new HIV infections between now and 2025” (6/30). The WHO “recommended that the threshold for starting to prescribe HIV medicines should be expanded to when patients have a CD4 cell count (a measure of strength of the human immune system) below 500 cells per cubic millimeter, compared with a current much lower threshold of 350,” the Financial Times notes (Jack, 6/30). “WHO says several other groups should also get AIDS drugs as soon as they’re diagnosed with HIV: pregnant and breast-feeding women, people whose partners are uninfected …, those who also have tuberculosis or hepatitis B,” and children under age five, the Associated Press states (Cheng, 6/30).

“About 9.7 million people were on drugs at the end of last year, and 1.6 million people started treatment, the biggest increase in a single year, as funding in developing nations to fight local epidemics exceeded international donations for the first time,” Bloomberg Businessweek reports. “Commencing treatment at an earlier stage of infection would expand the number of people eligible for therapy to 26 million from 17 million,” the news service writes (Bennett, 6/30). “A single pill combining three drugs will be given to people who are HIV positive much earlier, while their immune systems are still strong,” BBC News notes, adding, “Five companies make the daily combination pill, which can cost about $127 for a year’s individual treatment in countries where price reductions have been negotiated” (Dreaper, 6/30). “The guidelines also mean the total global spending on AIDS … will rise by about 10 percent, according to Gottfried Hirnschall, director of WHO’s HIV department,” but “[i]t’s unclear how willing donors will be to pitch in for even more AIDS treatments,” the AP writes (6/30). WHO Director-General Margaret Chan “called the guidelines ‘a leap ahead in a trend of ever-higher goals and ever-greater achievements,’ while [UNAIDS Executive Director] Michel Sidibé, … who several years ago called for universal treatment, said the step-by-step rise of the guidelines ‘gets most of the people we want on treatment, but not all — so it shows that you have limits to the system,'” according to the New York Times (McNeil, 6/30).