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Mass global screening of Aids

Mass global screening of everyone at risk from Aids, could wipe out the disease within 40 years.Testing everybody in high-risk regions and immediately treating everyone found to be HIV positive, could save millions of lives, stop the virus being spread by 2015 and see rid it from the world by 2050, according to a leading scientist. Billions of people would be offered HIV tests once a year, under the plan, then treated with anti viral drugs if they tested positive.

To date, the Aids virus has infected an estimated 33 million people and killed 25 million.The scheme would be costly lo roll out, at least £2 billion a year in South Africa alone, but it would soon pay for itself by cutting the cost of caring for Aids patients and reducing the economic damage caused by Aids deaths, said Dr Brian Williams, of the South African Centre for Epidemiological Modelling and Analysis (Sacema). It also has the potential to halve tuberculosis infections associated with HIV and Aids, he said.

Two trials of the universal testing and treatment scheme will start shortly in South Africa, the country with the highest incidence of HIV and Aids in the world. And it will be followed by trials in areas of American and Canadian cities where the disease is rampant. If the trials work, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said that it will back the strategy and if adopted, screening would be offered in Britain to anyone at high risk of Aids.“Our immediate best hope is to use anti retroviral drugs only to save lives but also to reduce transmission of HIV,” Dr Williams told the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in San Diego.“I believe if we used antiretroviral drugs, we could effectively stop transmission of HIV within five years,” said Dr Williams, one of a growing number of scientists who believe anti-HIV drugs, rather than new vaccines, are the best way of preventing and halting the spread of Aids.

The idea is that once today’s generation of people living with HIV die out in a few decades, the disease will die with them. The drugs lower the concentration of HIV, the virus that causes Aids, in the blood, making the people carrying the virus about 25 times less likely to infect others through unprotected sex. But in spit of rising backing for universal testing and treatment, Lisa Power, head of policy at Aids charity the Terrence Higgins Trust, said that it was unlikely to stop the epidemic. People are at their most infectious in the first months after contracting HIV, she told The Times newspaper, and would probably pass on the virus before they could be tested. 

By Hayley Jarvis for SOS Children