SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 25, 2016

MSF studies demonstrate success of HIV treatment

Two studies conducted by Médecins Sans Frontières found that the number of new HIV infections has been reduced in areas where HIV treatment significantly expanded, MSF said on Thursday.

MSF's research arm, Epicentre, presented the data on Thursday at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in Boston. The studies in Malawi and South Africa were some of the first to look at large-scale antiretroviral therapy rollout in high burden settings in sub-Saharan Africa and the potential impact on reducing new infections.

The first study in the Chiradzulu district of Malawi determined there was a very low level of new infections, 0.4 percent, among a cross-sectional, population-based survey. Among the surveyed HIV-positive population, 61.8 percent had undetectable levels of HIV in their blood. ART coverage in the Chiradzulu district is high at 65.8 percent.

"Two-thirds of people living with HIV in our study have what is considered 'undetectable' HIV and are practically not at risk of transmitting the virus-it's phenomenal to see it's feasible to reach these levels in such resource-limited settings," David Maman, the lead researcher of the Malawi study. "While this is not a clinical trial, the level of new infections we see is so low that our study strongly suggests HIV treatment itself has played a role in reducing transmission."

The second study in the KwaZulu Natal province of South Africa found that despite a 25 percent HIV prevalence, the incidence rate was moderate at 1.2 percent per year. Viral suppression was achieved in 89.6 percent of people receiving ART for more than six months. Approximately 75 percent of HIV-positive people in need of ART in the province were on treatment.

"Studies like ours are essential to get a close-up picture of the epidemic," Helena Huerga, the lead researcher of the South Africa study, said. "Our study tells us the situation on the ground is better than we expected, but it also points to exactly where we need to target our interventions to maximize the impact. As we can see, the older the treatment program, the better the impact seems to be in reducing transmission, so this is a real signal to the global health community to keep pushing forward with HIV treatment on a large scale and get treatment to as many people as possible, as soon as possible."

MSF currently supports the provision of ART in 20 countries to more than 280,000 people.