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Widespread ART Coverage Can Reduce Risk Of HIV Infection, Increase Life Expectancy Of General Population, Studies Show

“An intensive campaign to combat HIV/AIDS with costly antiretroviral drugs in rural South Africa has increased life expectancy by more than 11 years and significantly reduced the risk of infection for healthy individuals, according to new research,” the Los Angeles Times reports. “The two studies, published Thursday in the journal Science, come as wealthy Western nations are debating how best to stretch limited AIDS funding at a time of economic stress,” the newspaper writes (Morin, 2/21). In one study, researchers followed 16,667 HIV-negative South Africans for seven years in the province of KwaZulu-Natal, observing HIV seroconversions, according to the study abstract. They found that “individual HIV acquisition risk declined significantly with increasing [antiretroviral therapy (ART)] coverage in the surrounding local community,” the abstract states, adding, “For example, an HIV-uninfected individual living in a community with high ART coverage (30 to 40 percent of all HIV-infected individuals on ART) was 38 percent less likely to acquire HIV than someone living in a community where ART coverage was low (<10 percent of all HIV-infected individuals on ART)” (Tanser et al., 2/22).

“‘We were super excited when we first saw the data because the results were so striking,’ says epidemiologist Frank Tanser at the Africa Centre for Health and Population Studies in Somkhele who led the study,” Science writes (Cohen, 2/22). In another study, researchers “found that overall life expectancy in KwaZulu-Natal rose more than 11 years since the province scaled up HIV treatment in 2004,” NPR’s “Shots” blog notes (Beaubien, 2/22). According to the study abstract, “Based on standard monetary valuation of life, the survival benefits of ART far outweigh the costs of providing treatment in this community. These gains in adult life expectancy signify the social value of ART and have implications for the investment decisions of individuals, governments, and donors” (Bor et al., 2/22). Till Bärnighausen, a health economist and one of the study’s authors, said, “As more people gain access to ART the general life expectancy will most likely further increase,” Mail & Guardian notes (Malan, 2/21). In two related articles, Science examines how South Africa is “trying to overhaul its response” to HIV and tuberculosis (TB), andinterviews “Aaron Motsoaledi, the South African minister of health who has helped South Africa aggressively expand testing and treatment for both HIV and TB” (Cohen, 2/22).