HIV-positive people in wealthy countries using highly active antiretroviral therapy now live an additional 13 years on average, but a large disparity in life expectancy remains between HIV-positive people on HAART and the general population, according to a study published Friday in the journal Lancet, Reuters reports.
For the study, Robert Hogg of the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS and colleagues examined 14 ongoing studies of 43,000 people in the U.S., Canada and several European countries who use HAART. The study found that between 1996 and 1999 and 2003 and 2005, there was an approximately 13-year increase in life expectancy for HIV-positive people who used HAART at age 20. Similar gains were recorded for people age 35 living with the virus and taking HAART, the study found (Fox, Reuters, 7/24). The study also found that people who contracted HIV through injection drug use had a shorter life expectancy at an additional 32.6 years, compared with those from other groups who had on average an additional 44.7 years. Women had a slightly longer life expectancy than men -- 44.2 additional years compared with 42.8 additional years for men -- which might be because women on average tend to start their treatment earlier, the study found (PA/Google.com, 7/24).
According to the study, despite the overall increase in survival chances, a large gap in life expectancy remained between people on HAART and the general population. In developed countries, an HIV-positive person who begins treatment at age 20 will on average live another 43 years, while an HIV-negative person will survive to around age 80. The researchers noted that the mortality figures in the study are not detailed enough to explain the discrepancy. Given that most HIV-positive people are younger than age 50, there is no data to compare survival rates among older HIV-positive people with HIV-negative people, the researchers added (AFP/Google.com, 7/24).
Jonathan Sterne -- a professor at Bristol University's Department of Social Medicine and co-author of the study -- said, "These advances have transformed HIV from being a fatal disease, which was the reality for patients before the advent of combination treatment, into a long-term chronic condition." He added that the development is a "testament" to the success of antiretroviral drugs.
Marc Thompson, deputy head of health promotion at the Terrence Higgins Trust, said, "HIV medication has become much more effective since the early days." He added, "There has been great progress, but research needs to continue, especially for those who have developed resistance to some drugs and are running out of options." Thompson noted that the study also highlighted the need for early diagnosis. Deborah Jack of the National AIDS Trust said, "Hopefully, this study will encourage more people to come forward for testing but we need to better educate doctors about the signs and symptoms to look for." She added, "Society also needs to catch up with the fact that HIV is a long-term condition that thousands of people in the U.K. are living with every day. HIV is not deserved of the fear or stigma that still surrounds it" (BBC News, 7/24).
An abstract of the study is available online.