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WHO: More strategic use of anti-HIV medicines could help end transmission of virus

The World Health Organization is saying strategic use of antiretroviral HIV medications can significantly reduce the transmission of the virus, a first for the world’s largest health organization.

In a presentation earlier this month, WHO officials said strategic use of antiretroviral drugs could thwart advancements in the virus. WHO officials noted that widespread strategic deployment of antiretrovirals could reduce the number of infections through transmission.

“Every year, more than a million more people in low- and middle-income countries start taking antiretroviral drugs,” said Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General, WHO. “But for every person who starts treatment, another two are newly infected. Further scale-up and strategic use of the medicines could radically change this. We now have evidence that the same medicines we use to save lives and keep people healthy can also stop people from transmitting the virus and reduce the chance they will pass it to another person.”

In 2011, a large multi-country study by the HIV Prevention Trials Network showed that antiretrovirals (ARVs) cut transmission of HIV by 96 percent within couples where one partner is HIV-positive and the other is not infected, according to the WHO. An additional study in South Africa later confirmed the findings.

Speaking in Washington, D.C., Dr. Gottfried Hirnschall, Director of the HIV Department at WHO, said they are considering coordinating with large producers of antiretrovirals, noting that study results could persuade the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies to enter the market.

“When people take antiretrovirals, the amount of HIV in their body is decreased, making them much less likely to pass the virus to others,” says Dr. Hirnschall. “If we can get, and keep, more people on treatment, and reduce their virus levels, we can reduce the number of new people who are infected.”