Recent medical studies indicate that those infected with HIV/AIDS live longer, healthier lives when given antiretroviral therapy (ART) earlier. Early treatment is also believed to substantially reduce the risk of transmitting HIV to other people. The World Health Organisation (WHO) believes 3.5 million new HIV infections could be prevented between now and 2025 if earlier ART is provided to those living with HIV/AIDS.
Nearly 10 million people worldwide are now receiving ART, but there is still much work to do in extending access to treatment, particularly among children, where levels of provision are described as “unacceptably low” by UNAIDS. While the number of all eligible children on ART increased by 10% between 2011–2012, the rate of increase is much slower than the 20% rise seen for adults. And in most of the priority countries in Africa, only three in every ten children who test positive for HIV are receiving the medicines they need.
The new WHO recommendations say that ART should now be provided to all children with HIV under the age of five, irrespective of their CD4 cell count. For adults, the latest recommendations encourage countries to initiate treatment when a person’s CD4 cell count falls to 500 cells/mm3 or less, when the immune system is still reasonably strong. The previous guidelines from 2010 suggested offering treatment when a person had a count of 350 CD4 cells/mm3 or less. 90% of countries are working to the 2010 recommendation, but already, a few countries, such as Algeria, are offering treatment at the 2013 500 cells/mm3 recommended level.
Last year, Algeria was hailed as the region’s “champion” by UNAIDS for its response to the disease. The country has offered free antiretroviral treatment since 1998 and new HIV infections among children have been virtually eliminated. Algeria has also funded over 90% of its HIV programmes through domestic sources and hopes to fully finance its AIDS response in the coming years.
In partnership with UNAIDS, the country has also set up an AIDS Research Centre in Tamanrasset, a city in the south. Experts at the centre hope to exchange scientific knowledge and disseminate expertise on how HIV can best be treated and tackled, helping to work towards the global vision of “zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths”.
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