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

Reports of Mass Murder on Mediterranean Smuggler’s Boat

Boat sailed from Libya with 750 migrants aboard and arrived in Italy with 569 More

Video New Thailand Hotline Targets Misbehaving Monks

Officials say move aims to restore country’s image of Buddhism, tarnished by recent high profile scandals such as opulent lifestyle, drug and alcohol abuse, as well as child sex abuse More

Study: Dust from Sahara Helped Form Bahama Islands

What does the Sahara have in common with a Caribbean island? Quite a lot, researchers say More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Astronauts Train in Underwater Labi
X
George Putic
July 25, 2014 7:25 PM
In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Not Even Monks Spared From Thailand’s Junta-Backed Morality Push

With Thailand’s military government firmly in control after May’s bloodless coup, authorities are carrying out plans they say are aimed at restoring discipline, morality and patriotism to all Thais. The measures include a crackdown on illegal gambling, education reforms to promote students’ moral development, and a new 24-hour phone hotline for citizens to report misbehaving monks. Steve Sandford reports from Bangkok.
Video

Video Virtual Program Teaches Farming Skills

In a fast-changing world beset by unpredictable climate conditions, farmers cannot afford to ignore new technology. Researchers in Australia are developing an online virtual world program to share information about climate change and more sustainable farming techniques for sugar cane growers. As VOA's Zlatica Hoke reports, the idea is to create a wider support network for farmers.
Video

Video Airline Expert: Missile will Show Signature on Debris

The debris field from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 is spread over a 21-kilometer radius in eastern Ukraine. It is expected to take investigators months to sort through the airplane pieces to learn about the missile that brought down the jetliner and who fired it. VOAs Carolyn Presutti explains how this work will be done.
Video

Video Treatment for Childhood Epilepsy Heats up Medical Marijuana Debate

In the United States, marijuana is classed as an illegal drug by the federal government. But nearly half the states have legalized it, to some degree. Proponents say some strains of marijuana might have exceptional health benefits, for treating pain or inflammation in chronic conditions such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Shelley Schlender reports on a strain of medical marijuana developed in Colorado that is reputed to reduce seizures in childhood epilepsy
Video

Video Airbus Adds Metal 3D Printed Parts to New Jets

By the end of this year, European aircraft manufacturing consortium Airbus plans to deliver the first of its new, extra-wide-body passenger jets, the A350-XWB. Among other technological innovations, the new plane will also incorporate metal parts made in a 3-D printer. VOA's George Putic has more.
Video

Video AIDS Conference Welcomes Exciting Developments in HIV Treatment, Prevention

Significant strides have been made in recent years toward the treatment and prevention of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. This year, at the International AIDS Conference, the AIDS community welcomed progress on a new pill that may prevent transmission of the deadly virus. VOA’s Anita Powell reports from Melbourne, Australia.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.

AppleAndroid