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More HIV Patients Could Get Earlier Treatment

The World Health Organization issued new recommendations about HIV treatments that could have a profound impact on the number of patients who receive drugs and other support for the condition.

HIV-infected H9 T-cell Image Credit NIH NIAID

The World Health Organization issued new recommendations about HIV treatments that could have a profound impact on the number of patients who receive drugs and other support.

The new recommendations are designed to get treatment to people living with HIV earlier, before their condition deteriorates. But some governments, like South Africa, which has 5.5 million people infected with HIV (2.1 million of which are receiving treatment), are worried about the logistics of adding so many new patients to publicly available treatment plans.

From NPR:

If the country ends up adopting the latest WHO recommendations, more than 1 million additional South Africans could be put on antiretroviral therapy at public expense.

Joe Maila, spokesman for the national Ministry of Health, says adopting these WHO recommendations would have huge implications on an already strained public health system. “We need to see how many people are going to be rolled into the program,” Maila says. “We want to see how much money that will cost us, because this is lifelong. Therefore we need to make decisions that are well-informed.”

Worries about drug shortages, already common in South Africa, combined with the use of older drugs, and the sheer cost of adding that many patients make some public health officials wary.

Other countries had different reactions. In Uganda, the response to the recommendations was optimistic, even though only 62 percent of patients are able to get their antiretroviral therapy on time.

Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) also applauded the new recommendations, but other health advocates worried that they didn’t go far enough.

In the U.S., Secretary Kathleen Sebelius yesterday announced an unrelated program that also early treatment of HIV patients—a new HIV Care Continuum Initiative.

More from Smithsonian.com:

HIV in 3-D
Mississippi Baby Might Have Been Cured of HIV
New Set of Patients May Be Cured of HIV With Early Treatment

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