News / Africa

Antiretrovirals Allow Near Normal Life Spans

In this photo taken Tuesday April 14, 2009 a pedestrian passes an AIDS education billboard in Johannesburg. (AP Photo/Denis Farrell-File)
In this photo taken Tuesday April 14, 2009 a pedestrian passes an AIDS education billboard in Johannesburg. (AP Photo/Denis Farrell-File)

Multimedia

Audio
Joe DeCapua
Antiretroviral drugs have saved the lives of millions of people infected with the HIV, the AIDS virus. Now, new research shows HIV-infected people, who start treatment, can expect near normal life spans. The study was conducted in South Africa.


In 2011, South Africa had about 5.6 million people infected with HIV - more than any other country. That same year, over 270,000 people in South Africa died from AIDS-related illnesses and complications. So the more information health officials can gather about the disease, the better they can project treatment plans and costs.

University of Cape Town’s Dr. Leigh Johnson collected data on treatment programs between 2001 and 2010.  The study did not start out to specifically look at longevity.

“I think partly it was concern about the life insurance policies that were being provided to people with HIV. And in many cases people with HIV were being charged very high premiums. And we were worried about whether or not these very high premiums were really justified by the mortality risk in patients once they were on treatment,” he said.

There was a second aspect to the study.

“It was also partly motivated by an attempt to understand the extent to which antiretroviral treatment is reducing overall levels of mortality in South Africa. So we are involved in producing demographic forecasts for South Africa; and in order to produce these democratic forecasts we need estimates of how long people are surviving on antiretroviral treatment,” said Johnson.

The overall findings show treatment can enable people to live a near normal life span. However, Johnson said that patients must meet a few conditions for that to happen. The first is the stage of disease at the time treatment begins. That’s measured by the number of CD4 immune cells that have survived the onslaught of HIV.

“Previously, the treatment guidelines in South Africa recommended that patients defer their initiation of therapy until their CD4 count had dropped below 200 cells per microliter. That’s quite an advanced stage of disease to be starting treatment. And what we showed was that patients who started treatment before reaching that threshold of 200 cells per microliter had much high life expectancies than those patients who only waited until their CD4 count was below the 200 threshold,” he said.

Basically, at the 200 level the immune system has collapsed and the patient is an easy target for opportunistic infections.

There are newer World Health Organization guidelines that South Africa currently follows. It now tries to begin treatment when the CD4 count is at 350, a marked difference in the health of the immune system. However, despite that, Johnson said many people are still waiting until advanced stages of disease before seeking treatment. It’s a problem many countries now face.

Another factor was age. A 20 year old patient would naturally have a longer life expectancy than a 60 year old. The findings showed the 20 year old would get an additional 27 years of life and the 60 year old an extra 10.

So, what does it all mean?

“From a demographic point of view it means that our projections of mortality are going to be much lower than what we were expecting previously. But it does also mean that we are expecting many more long term survivors on antiretroviral treatment in [the] future. So we’re going to have a much greater older age population than was previously anticipated. And I think it’s important from a kind of a fiscal point of view because we obviously need to budget for the long term provision of treatment for these patients,” he said.

South Africa funds about 80 percent of its national treatment program through its own resources. Johnson said that it’s difficult to determine whether it will be able to sustain that as the number of people on treatment grows. Another factor will be the cost of new generations of antiretroviral drugs that will be needed as HIV builds resistance to current drugs.

You May Like

At Khmer Rouge Court, Long-Awaited Verdict Approaches

First phase of trial, which is coming to an end, has focused on forced exodus of Phnom Penh in 1975 - and now many are hopeful justice will be served More

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities More

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

Downing of Malaysian airliner, allegations of cross-border shelling move information war in war-torn country to a new level More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
July 31, 2014 8:13 PM
The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict in Gaza, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities. Probably the most important destination is the local bakery. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Gaza City.
Video

Video US-Funded Program Offers Honduran Children Alternative to Illegal Immigration

President Obama and Central American leaders recently agreed to come up with a plan to address poverty and crime in the region that is fueling the surge of young migrants trying to illegally enter the United States. VOA’s Brian Padden looks at one such program in Honduras - funded in part by the United States - which gives street kids not only food and safety but a chance for a better life without, crossing the border.
Video

Video 'Fab Lab' Igniting Revolution in Kenya

The University of Nairobi’s Science and Technology Park is banking on 3-D prototyping to spark a manufacturing revolution in the country. Lenny Ruvaga has more for from Nairobi's so-called “FabLab” for VOA.
Video

Video Gazans in Shelled School Sought Shelter

Israel's air and ground assault against Hamas-led fighters in Gaza has forced many Palestinians to flee their homes, seeking safety. But safe places are hard to find, as VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jabaliya.
Video

Video Rapid Spread of Ebola in West Africa Prompts Global Alert

Across West Africa, health officials are struggling to keep up with what the World Health Organization describes as the worst ebola outbreak on record. The virus has killed hundreds of people this year. U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders are watching the developments closely as they weigh what actions, if any, are needed to help contain the disease.
Video

Video Michelle Obama: Young Africans Need to Embrace Women's Rights

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama urged some of Africa's best and brightest to advocate for women's rights in their home countries. As VOA's Pam Dockins explains, Obama spoke to some 500 participants of the Young African Leaders Initiative, a six-week U.S.-based training and development program.
Video

Video Immigrant Influx on Texas Border Heats Up Political Debate

Immigrants from Central America continue to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in south Texas, seeking asylum in the United States, as officials grapple with ways to deal with the problem and provide shelter for thousands of minors among the illegal border crossers. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, the issue is complicated by internal U.S. politics and U.S. relations with the troubled nations that immigrants are fleeing.
Video

Video Study: Latino Students Most Segregated in California

Even though legal school segregation ended in the United States 60 years ago, one study finds segregation still occurs in the U.S. based on income and race. The University of California Los Angeles Civil Rights Project finds that students in California are more segregated by race than ever before, especially Latinos. Elizabeth Lee reports for VOA from Los Angeles.

AppleAndroid