HIV Patients Should Start Treatment Immediately, U.N. Says in New Push

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(CNN) — Anyone who tests positive for HIV should get immediate treatment, regardless of how sick they are, the U.N. health agency said Wednesday, revising its guidelines.

Previously, the world body limited treatment eligibility to people whose immune systems showed signs of sickness within a certain threshold.

Recent trials emphasized that immediate treatment prolongs life and reduces the risks of transmitting the virus, according to the U.N.’s World Health Organization.

Limitations removed

“With its treat-all recommendation, WHO removes all limitations on eligibility for antiretroviral therapy among people living with HIV,” it said. “All populations and age groups are now eligible for treatment.”

The new guidelines mean that all the 37 million people battling HIV worldwide should get immediate treatment, a recommendation that’s not feasible in poor countries, where a good percentage of the patients barely have access to medication.

Before the recommendation, at least 28 million people were eligible for treatment, the WHO said in a statement.

“The new guideline stresses that in order to effectively implement the recommendations, countries will need to ensure that testing and treatment for HIV infection are readily available,” it said.

Millions of lives at stake

In addition to immediate treatment, the WHO called for preventive antiretroviral treatment for people at “substantial” risk of getting HIV.

Previously, the combination of antiretroviral drugs that prevented HIV was provided only to men who have sex with men.

“Following further evidence of the effectiveness and acceptability of pre-exposure prophylaxis, WHO has now broadened this recommendation to … other population groups at significant HIV risk,” it said.

The expanded measures could save 21 million lives and prevent 28 million new infections by 2030, according to the U.N.

Cautious applause

Aid groups applauded the guidelines but said they will require a major push in funding and education.

“HIV care has to move out of clinics and into the communities with mobilized, empowered and engaged people living with HIV that actually are part of the response. This will need effort and money,” said Dr. Tom Ellman, a director at Doctors Without Borders in southern Africa.

“Nobody’s going to end AIDS with business as usual.”