WHO issues new HIV recommendations calling for earlier treatment

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A patient in South Sudan holding her anti-retroviral drugs. [Photo: UNDP/Brian Sokol]

New HIV treatment guidelines by the World Health Organization (WHO) recommend offering antiretroviral therapy (ART) earlier.

Recent evidence indicates that earlier ART will help people with HIV to live longer, healthier lives, and substantially reduce the risk of transmitting HIV to others. The move could avert an additional 3 million deaths and prevent 3.5 million more new HIV infections between now and 2025.

The new recommendations are presented in WHO's Consolidated guidelines on the use of antiretroviral drugs for treating and preventing HIV infection, as new data reveal a total of 9.7 million people were taking these lifesaving drugs at the end of 2012.

WHO Director-General Dr Margaret Chan says "These guidelines represent another leap ahead in a trend of ever-higher goals and ever-greater achievements," adding "With nearly 10 million people now on antiretroviral therapy, we see that such prospects – unthinkable just a few years ago – can now fuel the momentum needed to push the HIV epidemic into irreversible decline".

The new recommendations encourage all countries to initiate treatment in adults living with HIV when their CD4 cell count falls to 500 cells/mm³ or less – when their immune systems are still strong. The previous WHO recommendation, set in 2010, was to offer treatment at 350 CD4 cells/mm³ or less. Ninety per cent of all countries have adopted the 2010 recommendation. A few, such as Algeria, Argentina and Brazil, are already offering treatment at 500 cells/mm3.

WHO has based its recommendation on evidence that treating people with HIV earlier, with safe, affordable, and easier-to-manage medicines can both keep them healthy and lowers the amount of virus in the blood, which reduces the risk of passing it to someone else.

Donn Bobb, United Nations.

Duration: 1’47″

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