There is more good news in the area of public health. A couple of days ago I posted on the decline of human mortality rates in the tropics. Now the UN agency for HIV/AIDS, UNAIDS, reports that HIV infection rates, especially of the mother-to-child variety, are on a downward trend.
New infections with H.I.V. have dropped by half in the past decade in 25 poor and middle-income countries, many of them in Africa, the continent hardest hit by AIDS, the United Nations said Tuesday.
The greatest success has been in preventing mothers from infecting their babies, but focusing testing and treatment on high-risk groups like gay men, prostitutes and drug addicts has also paid dividends, said Michel Sidibé, the executive director of the agency U.N.AIDS.
Some regions, like Southern Africa and the Caribbean, are doing particularly well, while others, like Eastern Europe, Central Asia and the Middle East, are not. Globally, new infections are down 22 percent from 2001, when there were 3.2 million. Among newborns, they fell 40 percent, to 330,000 from 550,000.
AIDS researchers, many of whom have been meeting this week in Rome under the auspices of the International AIDS Society, are rightly pleased with the progress they have made. In particular, the use of antiretroviral drugs has not only revolutionised treatment of HIV infection, but also offers the prospect of stopping the spread of the virus. In a matter of weeks, these drugs reduce the number of viruses per millilitre of infected blood from millions to less than 50. That deals with both symptoms and infectivity. Unless a patient stops taking the drugs, or goes on to develop resistance to them, he can expect to live almost as long as an uninfected individual.
……. there is a glimmer of hope on the horizon. To deal with dormant viruses several researchers are taking what sounds like a counterintuitive approach. They are trying to wake the viruses up and so boost, rather than reduce, the amount of active HIV in a patient’s body. Their reasoning is that the now-active viruses will either kill the cells they are in (and thus themselves) or encourage the immune system to attack those cells.
That is the Economist in its latest issue. For more on the details of the state of AIDS research go here.
The Economist’s optimism is supported by empirical data. According to the Vancouver Sun:
HIV patients in Uganda who are receiving regular treatment can expect to live a near-normal lifespan, Canadian researchers have suggested in the world’s first large-scale study to examine HIV patients’ life expectancy in Africa.
After studying 22,315 patients who were using combined antiretroviral therapy (cART), scientists from the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS along with experts at the Universities of British Columbia and Ottawa found that with early initiation and access to regular treatment, those infected with HIV were living about two-thirds of a normal lifespan.