The World Health Organization announced Sunday that getting people on HIV drugs even before they're sick helps them to live better and longer lives. Antiretroviral drugs currently used to treat HIV have such strong and positive results that the WHO has changed its guidlines for when to start treating HIV.
This new set of rules indicates that children under five, pregnant women, those with tuberculosis or hepatitis B, and those with HIV-negative partners should start medications immediately after they have been diagnosed with HIV, regardless of their CD4 count. For all others, the drugs should begin at the start of any sign of harm to the immune system.
There are drawbacks to this plan, of course. Since the new plan calls for a treatment increase by about 7 million more people, there will be at least a 10 percent increase in the funds needed to stop the spread of HIV.
Some, like Doctors Without Borders president Unni Karunakara, applaud the new treatment recommendations as ambitious, but possible. Others think the new guidelines don't go far enough.
Michael Sidibe, the executive director of the United Nations AIDS agency, told The New York Times that not all people who need to be on treatment are included in the new guidelines. "What is holding us back is that we lack a vision for ending the epidemic," he said.
Since the movement in 2002 to expand worldwide HIV treatment, the number of new HIV infections has dropped by 20 percent, and medications have prevented about 4 million deaths from AIDS-related complications in developing countries.