Life expectancy for 20-year-olds with HIV has increased by 10 years in the EU and North America thanks to improvements in treatment, new research reveals.
The study published in The Lancet found that a 20-year-old who started antiretroviral therapy from 2008 onwards and survived the first year of treatment is now expected to have a near normal life expectancy – 73 years for men and 76 for women.
This marks a 10-year increase for men and a nine year increase for women compared to projected rates in 1996.
The authors of the study, from the University of Bristol, said they were hopeful their findings would combat the stigma that’s often associated with HIV, as well as helping people living with the condition gain employment and obtain medical insurance.
They also hoped that anyone diagnosed with HIV would seek treatment as soon as possible and continue it fully.
Researchers believe that the life expectancy improvements are down to a wider variety of drug options and less toxic antiretroviral therapy, which first became widely used in 1996 and involves a combination of three or more drugs that prevent the HIV virus from replicating.
Antiretroviral therapy recommended by WHO
The World Health Organisation (WHO) now recommends antiretroviral therapy to be given as soon as possible after diagnosis to all people with HIV.
The study researchers used data from more than 88,000 people with HIV who started antiretroviral treatment between 1996 and 2010 from 18 European and North American studies.
To estimate life expectancy, the researchers tracked how many people died during the first three years of their antiretroviral treatment, their cause of death, HIV viral load, immune cell count and whether they were infected through injecting drugs.
They found that fewer people who started treatment between 2008-2010 died during their first three years of treatment compared to those who started treatment between 1996-2007.
Study lead author Adam Trickey, a PhD student at the University of Bristol, said: “Our research illustrates a success story of how improved HIV treatments coupled with screening, prevention and treatment of health problems associated with HIV infection can extend the lifespan of people diagnosed with HIV.
“However, further efforts are needed if life expectancy is to match that of the general population.
Deborah Gold, the Chief Executive of the National AIDS Trust (NAT) said: “The publication of this study adds to the overwhelming weight of evidence that the medical advances made in HIV treatment mean that most people diagnosed with HIV today can expect to live long and healthy lives, with a similar life expectancy to the general population.
“However, findings from a recent survey we conducted demonstrate that many people living with HIV are still struggling to get insurance that meets their needs, in spite of the advances made in the insurance sector over the past decade.”
Gold added that she hoped the findings of the new study will encourage insurance companies to lower premiums and continue to improve and extend cover to people living with HIV.
The news that younger HIV patients are living up to 10 years longer and are now expected to have a near-normal life expectancies is very refreshing to hear.
These findings and future advances in the treatment for HIV patients will hopefully lead to more options for these individuals to gain employment and provide insurance companies with the proof that they need to offer more options and on more affordable terms.
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