Today, a 20-year-old HIV-positive person who is on antiretroviral therapy, and maintains a low viral load after the first year on treatment, is expectedly to live to their mid to late 70s—which is basically the same as a healthy person who is not HIV-positive.
This is mostly thanks to the improvements in antiretroviral therapy (ART) in treating HIV. Though this type of therapy has been in use since the mid-90s, the early versions of ART were much more toxic with numerous side effects. In 1996, a 20-year-old person on who had been on ART for three years only had a life expectancy of around 60 years old.
The research comes from a study from the University of Bristol in the UK in which they looked at 88,500 people with HIV from Europe and North America who had been involved in 18 studies. Aside from improvements in antiretroviral therapy, other factors have helped improve life-expectancy for those living with HIV. People getting diagnosed and on treatment sooner is vital, since the virus will have less time to do harmful damage to the body’s immune system.
It should be noted that the research is based on HIV-positive people in North America and Europe, where there is the most access to testing, care and medication. People in parts if the world without these advantages will continue to suffer short life expectancies.
Also, with more and more people now growing older with HIV, Dr. Michael Brady, medical director at the Terrence Higgins Trust, says we need to make accommodation in our healthcare systems.
“As it stands, the healthcare, social care and welfare systems simply aren't ready to support the increasing numbers of people growing older with HIV,” Higgins told BBC News. “We need a new model of care to better integrate primary care with HIV specialist services, and we need a major shift in awareness and training around HIV and ageing, so that we're ready to help older people live well in later life.”
Though inevitably, with advancements in medicine come new problems and issues, the overall message is a very positive and hopeful one for those currently living with this condition.