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Earlier HIV antiviral treatment can be cost effective in areas of limited resources
Date:7/20/2009

Early initiation of lifesaving antiretroviral therapies should be the standard of care for all HIV-infected patients, even those in countries with limited medical and financial resources, according to a study led by researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and the Desmond Tutu HIV Centre, University of Cape Town, South Africa.

The team reports in the August 4 Annals of Internal Medicine that starting antiretroviral therapy (ART) when the level of CD4 T cells drops below a threshold of 350 per microliter of blood, compared with below 250, would prevent nearly 76,000 deaths and avert 66,000 opportunistic infections over the next five years at an estimated cost of $1,200 per year of life saved. The study's publication coincides with the International AIDS Society Conference meeting which started yesterday in Cape Town.

The study provides strong support for broadening the eligibility standards for ART in settings with sufficient access to drugs, the authors note. In the U.S. and other developed countries, ART is usually initiated when the CD4 count a measure of immune system function drops below 350. Recognizing that ART is both costly and can have significant side effects, the 2006 World Health Organization (WHO) treatment guidelines suggest waiting until CD4 counts drop below 200 or until patients develop AIDS-related complications.

"While those standards accommodate the limited resources and short supply of medications in many settings, the greater prevalence of tuberculosis and other opportunistic infections in places like South Africa argue for earlier treatment initiation, even before the results of ongoing clinical trials are known." says Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH, of the MGH Division of Infectious Disease, associate professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, who led the study.

Definitive clinical trial findings will not be available for several years. Yet in countries like South Africa, wh
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Contact: Sue McGreevey
smcgreevey@partners.org
617-724-2764
Massachusetts General Hospital
Source:Eurekalert

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