U.N. releases updated policy on preventing tuberculosis in HIV/AIDS patients

The United Nations' World Health Organization has released an updated policy on the joint prevention, diagnosis and treatment of HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis.

TB is a major cause of death among those living with HIV/AIDS, which decreases the effectiveness of the immune system, making those infected much more susceptible to the infection of TB. A guidelines change in 2005 by the WHO on the subject of joint treatment saved an estimated 910,000 lives globally in the last six years.

Testing for HIV among patients with TB increased from 470,000 to more than 2.2 million between 2005 and 2010.

"This (new) framework is the international standard for the prevention, care and treatment of TB and HIV patients to reduce deaths; and we have strong evidence that it works," Mario Raviglione, the WHO director of the Stop TB Department, said. "Now is the time to build on these actions and break the chain that links TB and HIV with death for so many people."

The major elements of the new policy include routine HIV testing for TB patients, those with symptoms and their partners or family members, starting all joint patients with antiretroviral therapy as soon as possible, evidence-based methods to prevent HIV acquisition for TB patients, their families and their communities, and the provision of the cost-effective co-trimoxazole to prevent lung or other infections for joint patients.

"We must address TB as we manage HIV," Gottfried Hirnschall, the director of the WHO's HIV/AIDS Department, said. "We have shown over the last five years what can be done. To continue the progress and save more lives, comprehensive HIV services must include the Three I's for HIV/TB strategy - isoniazid preventive therapy, intensified screening and infection control for TB - and it should also include earlier treatment for HIV for those that are eligible."