WHO says everyone with HIV should be treated

The World Health Organization is recommending anyone infected with HIV begin treatment as soon as possible after diagnosis, making an additional nine million people eligible for treatment.

Previous WHO guidelines recommended patients be treated after their viral load, the amount of HIV in the bloodstream, reached a certain level.

The new guidelines are based on recent studies that indicate treating patients as soon as possible can have substantial positive health outcomes, including the prevention of death, with relatively few drawbacks.

The recommendations mean all 37 million people in the world who have HIV should be on treatment, up from the 28 million eligible under the previous standard.

Sub-Saharan Africa, which accounts for more than 70 percent of all people living with HIV, will be the most affected. Nearly 1 in every 20 adults there are infected with HIV, according to WHO.

WHO is also recommending people at “substantial risk” of HIV should be offered antiretroviral treatment. Previously, the WHO only recommended anti-HIV drugs to men who had sex with other men, prostitutes and people with HIV-infected partners.

Global health organizations praised the WHO announcement Wednesday. The Global Fund, a nonprofit organization that aims to eliminate AIDS, said it welcomes the new guidelines.

“The two recommendations are critically important and very timely to moving us towards the fast track treatment and prevention goals and to achieve the end of the HIV epidemic by 2030,” Executive Director of the Global Fund Mark Dybul said, referring to the Sustainable Development Goals the United Nations adopted last week.

However, WHO has not said how the new treatment will be made available or how much the new guidelines will cost. PrEP, a drug used to prevent HIV in at-risk persons costs at least $16,000 per year without insurance, according to a NIH study.

Treatment for patients who have already contracted HIV are typically less expensive, but would still require a substantial increase in overall spending.