H.I.V. Treatment Should Start at Diagnosis, U.S. Health Officials Say

People with H.I.V. should be put on antiretroviral drugs as soon as they learn they are infected, federal health officials said last week as they announced that they were halting the largest ever clinical trial of early treatment because its benefits were already so clear.

People with H.I.V. should be put on antiretroviral drugs as soon as they learn they are infected, federal health officials said last week as they announced that they were halting the largest ever clinical trial of early treatment because its benefits were already so clear.

The study was stopped more than a year early because preliminary data already showed that those who got treatment immediately were 53 percent less likely to die during the trial or develop AIDS or a serious illness than those who waited.

The study is strong evidence that early treatment saves more lives, the officials said. Fewer than 14 million of the estimated 35 million people infected with H.I.V. around the world are on treatment now, according to U.N.AIDS, the United Nations AIDS-fighting agency. In the United States, only about 450,000 of the estimated 1.2 million with H.I.V. are on treatment, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“This is another incentive to seek out testing and start therapy early, because you will benefit,” said Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Disease, which sponsored the trial. “The sooner, the better.

Although the C.D.C. recommends immediate treatment, it said in November that only 37 percent of infected Americans had prescriptions for the drugs. The agency blamed a mix of factors, including H.I.V.-positive people missed by testing, those who had no health insurance and therefore did not see doctors or could not afford the drugs, and those whose doctors were unfamiliar with treatment guidelines.

Internationally, there is not nearly enough money even to put those who are already sick on antiretroviral medicines, much less those not yet showing symptoms. The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria is in a constant struggle to raise money and the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief has been essentially flat since 2010. Putting all the people with H.I.V. in the world’s poor and middle-income countries on treatment immediately would cost almost $20 billion, about triple the $6.3 billion per year that is now being spent on that, U.N.AIDS said.

“This is a defining moment for social justice,” said Michel Sidibé, executive director of U.N.AIDS. “People will be scared, saying, ‘Oh, it will be a big number.’ But this puts an end to the false debate about whether to pay for treatment.”

Many AIDS researchers and advocates have long argued — based on their own observations and smaller studies — that treatment should start immediately. The trial stopped Wednesday is the first major clinical trial to produce evidence that patients would live longer and be healthier if they did so.

“This is fantastic,” said Dr. Susan P. Buchbinder, director of H.I.V. prevention research for the San Francisco Department of Public Health. Her department began recommending immediate treatment in 2010, and new infections in that city have dropped substantially since then. “The evidence for this has been building for quite some time, but now it’s clear that people should be offered treatment right away and told why it’s beneficial.”

New York City has recommended immediate treatment since 2011, but has not yet achieved San Francisco’s success, partly because the latter is a smaller city in which many AIDS specialists have done their residencies together and learned the same treatment protocols.

“Most doctors in N.Y.C. are starting H.I.V. medications quickly for newly diagnosed patients,” said Dr. Demetre C. Daskalakis, the city health department’s assistant commissioner for H.I.V./AIDS prevention and control. “With this study, we’ve answered the question definitively: Treat H.I.V. — it’s good for both personal and public health. The release of data from such a powerful source should erase any doubt.”

Dr. Julio S. G. Montaner, a former president of the International AIDS Society who wrote a seminal 2006 paper in the Lancet arguing that universal antiretroviral treatment was the best way to curb the AIDS epidemic, said the study “confirms what we have been saying for years.”

New York Times | By DONALD G. McNEIL Jr.

Top
We use cookies to improve our website. By continuing to use this website, you are giving consent to cookies being used. More details…