At the end of last month, WHO announced a “treat all” policy for HIV infected people. The policy called for an early use of the antiretroviral therapy (ART) for HIV patients, and the expanded use of the preventive antiretroviral treatment pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) for people at “substantial” risk of HIV.

The new treatment regulations removes all limitations on eligibility for ART among HIV infected people – all populations, and age groups are now eligible for treatment. Irrespective of the CD4 count, once tested positive, patients will immediately begin ART as opposed to former treatment guideline where patients are eligible for ART only after their CD4 count had dropped to a certain level – below 350.

According to WHO, the expanded use of antiretroviral treatment is supported by recent findings from clinical trials confirming that early use of ART keeps people living with HIV alive and healthier, and reduces the risk of transmitting the virus to partners.

The second guideline concerning the use of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) builds on the2014 guidelines of WHO to offer a combination of antiretroviral drugs to prevent HIV acquisition in key populations. This development is as a result of the effectiveness and acceptability of PrEP over the years. “PrEP should be seen as an additional prevention choice based on a comprehensive package of services, including HIV testing, counselling and support, and access to condoms and safe injection equipment,” reads the announcement.

The new regulations increases the number of people eligible for antiretroviral treatment from 28 million to all 37 million people currently living with HIV in the world.  Globally, about 25 million (70%) of 37 million people living with the virus are from Sub Saharan Africa, and the region continues to be the epicentre of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Both ART and PrEP are still very limited for people in this region, and in many other parts of the world. As of March 2015, only about  41 percent of the global population of HIV patients had access to ART. Expanding access to treatment is part of a new set of targets for 2020 which aims to end the AIDS epidemic in the next 15 years.

Because of their potential for public health impact, the new guidelines were shared ahead of the full publication, slated for release later this year. These latest policies could help avert more than 21 million deaths and 28 million new infections by 2030.

Since inception, nearly 78 million people have contracted HIV, with about 39 million recorded Aids related deaths.

Source: Hadassah Egbedi, Ventures Africa

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