As per new research, the benefits of highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) extend beyond treatment of the virus to significantly preventing the transmission and spread of HIV.
The study, conducted by the BC Centre of Excellence in HIV/AIDS (BC-CfE), Vancouver, British Columbia, appears in the journal Lancet.
Recognized as the gold standard treatment for HIV, HAART uses a combination of drugs to stop HIV from progressing to AIDS, extends life expectancy, and significantly reduces HIV-related deaths in diagnosed individuals.
Gordon Campbell, Premier of British Columbia, said: "The expansion of HAART treatment plays an important role in the health of British Columbians with HIV, preventing HIV transmission and maximizing public health resources. Based on HAART's effectiveness and ongoing research at the BC-CfE, Canada's leading HIV/AIDS organization, the government of B.C. is investing in improving access to HAART through innovative programs such as the Seek and Treat initiative."
The new study found that increased levels of HAART treatment were associated with a decrease in community viral load and in new HIV diagnoses across British Columbia, particularly in populations with a history of injection drug use.
Lead author and BC-CfE director Dr. Julio Montaner said: "These study results reinforce the effectiveness of HAART in preventing transmission of HIV, and support extending the treatment as prevention model developed at the BC-CfE and now being rolled out in major centres in Canada, the U.S. and elsewhere."
Data resulting from BC-CfE research showed that the number of individuals actively receiving HAART had a strong impact on overall viral load and new diagnoses in the community. As HAART coverage increased, new HIV diagnoses decreased; as HAART coverage stabilized, so too did viral load and new HIV diagnoses.
The study results align with the emphasis global leaders in HIV research, policy and advocacy place on early treatment to prevent transmission of HIV. Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of UNAIDS, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, noted that treatment is a smart health investment, as it reduces HIV transmission, TB infection and maternal and child mortality within communities, and improves work productivity.
He said: "The most recent evidence presented by the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS and other leading research organizations supports these facts and tells us that we need to introduce treatment earlier.
Treatment not only saves lives, it can be one of the most compelling prevention tools we have."