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HIV treatment reduces transmission rates

4th December 2012

Chinese researchers have found that transmission rates of HIV can be greatly reduced in couples where one partner is infected and the other is not, if the HIV partner receives antiretroviral (ARV) therapy.

hiv spreading

While previous clinical trials have shown that ARV treatment can reduce transmission rates, this study is the first to examine the effects of treatment on real people.

Published in The Lancet, the study followed 38,800 couples in which one partner was living with HIV, for up to nine years.

The HIV-infected partner in 24,000 couples was given ARV treatment at the start of the study.

The remaining 14,800 couples did not receive this treatment because they had not met national criteria for receiving it.

The aim was to test the effects of ARV treatment on transmission in a real-life situation.

The treated group had a transmission rate of 1.3 cases of transmission per 100 person years, compared with 2.6 per 100 person years.

However, this effectively indicates a reduction of just 26% in the risk of HIV transmission between partners.

Previous clinical trials had suggested that the risk of transmission might be reduced by as much as 89% in people taking antiretrovirals.

Also, as the study progressed, transmission rates became more similar between treated and untreated couples.

They concluded that the protective effects of ARV treatment seemed to last for about one year.

There were 2.5 million new HIV infections in 2011, 700,000 less than a decade before, and an estimated 1.7 million deaths from HIV and AIDS-related illnesses, down 600,000 on 2005.

WHO health experts said that transmission rates could fall further if access to antiretrovirals is improved worldwide.

ARV drugs cut the risk of transmission by reducing the viral load; the amount of virus in a person's bloodstream.

Governments are now aiming to supply ARV treatment to 15 million people with HIV by 2015, a target which could be reached if countries keep up their current success rate.

Back in 2003, only 0.4 million HIV-infected people had access to ARV treatment, compared with eight million people today.

According to Gottfried Hirnschall, director of the WHO's HIV department, global progress now needs to be evened out around the world, to include the poorest countries and regions.

He said that people should be able to get ARV therapy when they need it, regardless of their location or income level.

According to AIDS expert Keith Alcorn, the Chinese study gave an interesting insight into the the real-life impact of antiretroviral therapy.

He said it was possible that the smaller reduction in risk was the result of failure to stick to treatment regimes.

 

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