AIDS prevention 'breakthrough'18th May 2011
Antiretroviral drugs can effectively prevent the spread of HIV between sexual partners, according to a recent study.
The researchers studied more than 1,700 couples in which one partner had HIV and the other did not.
Experts have described the finding as a major breakthrough, and the conclusions seem well-founded, especially since the research was carried out in 13 countries.
Participating countries included Brazil, several African countries, the USA, Thailand, and India.
In theory, if every HIV-positive person in the world was given antiretroviral treatment, there would be no AIDS epidemic.
Around 94% of the time, people who participated in the study were able to stem the spread of HIV simply by taking antiretrovirals.
The researchers were so confident that they had reached a definite conclusion about antiretrovirals that they decided to finish the study early.
The study was scheduled to take a further three years to finish.
Michel Sidibé, executive director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), described the results as a "serious game-changer" which would drive the HIV-prevention revolution forward.
He added that it made HIV treatment a new priority prevention option.
While five million people worldwide currently receive antiretrovirals, only half of people with HIV know they are HIV-positive, and there are at least 10 million more people who will need to receive such treatment on a regular basis.
The fact that HIV has been both deadly and tough to control has stigmatised people who have contracted the virus, and the recent breakthrough may also mean that there is less discrimination against people infected with HIV.
Sidibé said that people who had HIV could now take additional steps to protect their loved ones, and act with dignity and confidence.
Under the current antiretrovirals prescription regime, many people who took part in the study would not be eligible to receive the treatments.
Usually, doctors require people with HIV to demonstrate they have reduced immunity before they prescribe the drugs.
However, the finding shows that everyone infected with HIV should be receiving the drugs, since they severely limit the ability of the virus to self-propagate.
Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), which led the study, said that previous data about the potential value of antiretrovirals in making HIV-infected individuals less infectious to their sexual partners came largely from observational and epidemiological studies.
He said the new finding convincingly demonstrated that treating people sooner rather than later had a definite effect on HIV transmission.
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