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New guidelines of HIV patients sought by World Health Organization

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
June 30th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Three million lives could be saved globally if those freshly diagnosed with the HIV virus, which causes AIDS, are treated much sooner. That's the diagnosis of the World Health Organization, which notes that cheap generic AIDS drugs could lead to more people getting treatment. They note that health workers, particularly in developing with limited health budgets, currently tend to wait until the infection has progressed.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The United Nations health agency says that some 26 million HIV-positive people, around 80 percent of all those with the virus, should be getting medication.

New guidelines aimed at controlling and eventually reducing the global AIDS epidemic, set a global standard for when people with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) should start antiretroviral treatment. The figures were arrived upon after numerous studies found that treating HIV patients earlier can keep them healthy for many years. Early treatment also lowers the amount of virus in the blood, which significantly cuts the risk of them infecting someone else.

"We are raising the bar to 26 million people," Gottfried Hirnschall, the WHO's HIV/AIDS department director declared. "And this is not only about keeping people healthy and alive but also about blocking further transmission of HIV."

Some 34 million people worldwide have the HIV virus that causes AIDS and the vast majority of them live in poor and developing countries. Sub-Saharan Africa is by far the worst affected region. The epidemic, which has killed 25 million people in the 30 years since HIV was first discovered, is beginning to show some signs of being turned around. The United Nations AIDS program, UNAIDS says deaths from the disease fell to 1.7 million in 2011, down from a peak of 2.3 million in 2005 and from 1.8 million in 2010.

Progress has also been made in getting more HIV patients into treatment, with 9.7 million people getting life-saving AIDS drugs in 2012, up from just 300,000 people a decade earlier.

Indian generics companies are leading suppliers of HIV drugs to Africa and other disadvantaged countries. Major Western HIV drug makers include Gilead Sciences, Johnson & Johnson and ViiV Healthcare, which is majority-owned by GlaxoSmithKline.

"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," Margaret Chan, the WHO's director general said in a statement.

Chan also noted that the dramatic improvement in access to HIV treatment raised the prospect of the world one day being able to beat the disease.

The WHO's guidelines encourage health authorities worldwide to start treatment in adults with HIV as soon as a key test known as a CD4 cell count falls to a measure of 500 cells per cubic millimeter or less.

The guidelines also say all pregnant or breastfeeding women and all children under five with HIV should start treatment immediately, whatever their CD4 count, and that all HIV patients should be regularly monitored to assess their "viral load."

This allows health workers to check whether the medicines are reducing the amount of virus in the blood. It also encourages patients to keep taking their medicine because they can see it having positive results.

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