The World Health Organization (WHO) announced today their support for expanding HIV treatment through a more strategic use of antiretroviral medications to significantly reduce the transmission of the virus.
WHO’s proposal for HIV antiretroviral treatment will be presented at the upcoming International AIDS Conference (July 22 – 27 in Washington, D.C.), the biennial meeting of more than 25,000 delegates that brings together HIV professionals and global and community leaders. The WHO proposal supports approaches that British Columbia has implemented as part of the province’s successful Treatment as Prevention strategy.
Treatment as Prevention, pioneered by the BC-CfE, involves widespread HIV testing and provision of anti-HIV drugs known as highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) to people with HIV. The BC-CfE has demonstrated the benefits of engaging HIV-positive individuals earlier into care and onto HAART treatment: it reduces the level of HIV in the blood to undetectable levels, improving the health of people with HIV, and decreases the level of HIV in sexual fluids to undetectable levels, reducing the likelihood of HIV transmission. Treatment as Prevention has helped AIDS cases and deaths among HIV-infected British Columbians reach an AIDS-era low, falling from approximately 900 new HIV diagnoses per year in the mid-1990’s to 289 in 2011.
“Every year, more than a million more people in low- and middle- income countries start taking antiretroviral drugs,” said Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General, WHO, in a press release. “But for every person who starts treatment, another two are newly infected. Further scale-up and strategic use of the medicines could radically change this. We now have evidence that the same medicines we use to save lives and keep people healthy can also stop people from transmitting the virus and reduce the chance they will pass it to another person.”
WHO’s advice for the more strategic use of antiretrovirals includes providing ARVs to people living with HIV who have HIV-negative partners, pregnant women and high-risk populations, regardless of their immune status. Expanding access through Treatment as Prevention strategies would increase the number of people eligible for treatment in low- and middle-income countries from 15 million today to 23 million.
Over the next 12 months, WHO will compile a new, consolidated set of recommendations related to the use of ARVs for both HIV treatment and prevention. The document will provide countries with clinical, programmatic and operational guidance so they can make the most effective and strategic use of ARVs.