Earlier treatment for HIV infection in South Africa could prevent nearly 76,000 deaths and avert 66,000 opportunistic infections over the next five years, researchers said on Monday.
People in developed countries like the United States are treated with HIV drugs soon after diagnosis, typically when their immune system shows signs of failing.
Doctors measure this by counting the number of immune cells called CD4 T-cells in the blood. In developed countries, HIV treatment usually begins when CD4 numbers drop below 350.
Many developing countries follow 2006 World Health Organisation standards, which call for treatment when CD4 drops below 200 or when people start to develop complications from Aids.
Argument for earlier treatment
"While those standards accommodate the limited resources and short supply of medications in many settings, the greater prevalence of tuberculosis and other opportunistic infections in places like South Africa argue for earlier treatment initiation," Dr Rochelle Walensky of Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, whose study appears in the Annals of Internal Medicine, said in a statement.
Walensky used a computer model to calculate the cost of waiting to give HIV drugs over the next five years. She found starting treatment earlier would not only save lives but would be more cost-effective than delaying treatment, saving R9,600 ($1,200) for every year of life saved.
A Canadian study last year found cocktails of HIV drugs can help patients live an average of 13 years longer - if they are lucky enough to get them.
Nearly 3 million people in the developing world now get HIV drugs - about 70% of those who need them, according to the United Nations. – (Reuters/July 2009)
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