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Study Says AIDS Could be Nearly Eliminated With Universal Testing, Treatment

A new study says AIDS could be nearly eliminated in a decade, if everyone was tested and drugs were prescribed as soon as a person tested positive. Although based on a theoretical model, researchers say they hope to further study the intriguing results of the mathematical model. VOA's Jessica Berman reports.

The World Health Organization estimates that more than nine million people infected with the HIV virus are not being treated with antiretroviral drugs because they don't have access to the medications or they don't know they are infected with the virus that causes AIDS.

To study the possible effect universal treatment might have on the AIDS pandemic, researchers used a computer model to project what would happen in a South African community if everyone was tested for HIV once a year and started on antiretroviral therapy immediately after a positive diagnosis, even though they appeared to be healthy.

In a study published this week in the journal The Lancet, researchers found that the rate of HIV infection would be nearly eliminated.

Reuben Granich of the World Health Organization's, or WHO's, Department of HIV/AIDS in Geneva led the study. He says investigators were surprised by the results.

"We found a 95 percent reduction incidence or new HIV cases in about 10 years time after implementation of the program," said Reuben Granich. "Or another way to look at that is that by about 2050, the prevalence or the number of people living with HIV would be less than one percent."

Kevin de Cock is the WHO's HIV/AIDS program director and co-author of the study. He says the study opens the possibility of antiretroviral drugs being used to prevent HIV transmission.

"We know from experience from other spheres of HIV medicine and public health, like for the prevention of mother to child transmission, that these drugs reduce the amount of virus in the body and make people less infectious," said Kevin de Cock. "So this is biologically plausible."

Although the idea of universal testing and drug therapy for people who are not yet sick is outside the bounds of current strategy, Kevin de Cock says WHO plans to convene a meeting next year to discuss the findings of the latest study.