LONDON // Doctors could save three million more lives worldwide by 2025 if they offer Aids drugs to people with HIV much sooner after they test positive for the virus, the World Health Organisation said yesterday.
While better access to cheap generic Aids drugs means many more people are now getting treatment, health workers, particularly in poor countries with limited health budgets, currently tend to wait until the infection has progressed.
But in new guidelines aimed at controlling and eventually reducing the global Aids epidemic, the UN health agency said about 26 million HIV-positive people - or around 80 per cent of all those with the virus - should be getting antiretroviral drug treatment.
The guidelines, which set a global standard for treatment of people with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), were drawn up after numerous studies found that treating HIV patients earlier can keep them healthy for many years and also lowers the amount of virus in the blood, significantly cutting their risk of infecting someone else.
"We are raising the bar to 26 million people," said Gottfried Hirnschall, the WHO's department director for HIV and Aids.
"And this is not only about keeping people healthy and alive but also about blocking further transmission of HIV."
About 34 million people worldwide have the HIV virus that causes Aids, and the vast majority of them live in poor and developing countries. Sub-Saharan Africa is by far the worst-affected region.
But the epidemic - which has killed 25 million people in the 30 years since HIV was first discovered - is showing some signs of being turned around. The United Nations Aids programme said deaths from the disease fell to 1.7 million in 2011, down from a peak of 2.3 million in 2005 and 1.8 million in 2010.