WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 28, 2016

WHO releases new HIV treatment guidelines

New HIV guidelines released by the World Health Organization recommend earlier antiretroviral therapy for more demographics, which may bring to fruition the organization's goal for an HIV-free generation.

The guidelines, reported in the WHO's "Consolidated guidelines of the use of antiretroviral drugs for treating and preventing HIV infection," recommend administering ARTs to HIV-positive patients while their immune systems are still healthy and increasing drug availability for HIV-positive children and pregnant women. The adjustments are projected to save 3 million lives between now and 2025.

"These guidelines represent another leap ahead in a trend of ever-higher goals and ever-greater achievements," WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan said. "With nearly 10 million people now on antiretroviral therapy, we see that such prospects - unthinkable just a few years ago - can now fuel the momentum needed to push the HIV epidemic into irreversible decline."

The new recommendation is to begin treating HIV-positive patients when their CD4 cell count falls to 500 cells/mm³, a point at which the immune system is still healthy. Research shows this keeps patients healthier and lowers the amount of the virus in the system, making the probability of passing to virus onto another person much lower. The 2010 recommendation, which 90 percent of the world currently follows, is to administer the ARTs at 300 cells/ mm³.

The new guidelines also recommend all children under five years of age, pregnant women and women that are breastfeeding receive ARTs, regardless of their CD4 cell count. The new guidelines would make 26 million people eligible for ART treatment.

"Today nearly 10 million people have access to lifesaving treatment. This is a true development triumph," Executive Director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS Michel Sidibé said. "But we now have a new challenge - ensuring that all 26 million people eligible for treatment have access - not one person less. Any new HIV infection or AIDS-related death due to lack of access to antiretroviral therapy is unacceptable."