Learn More How HIV Life Expectancy Is Improving

Combination antiretroviral therapy (ART) has been the preferred treatment for patients with HIV for 20 years. Since its inception in 1996, the therapy has continued to improve. Now, studies report that patients living with HIV who take the new ART drugs may look forward to near-normal life expectancy.

In particular, people with the disease are likely to live 10 years longer than people who were infected with HIV in 1990s.

A new study published in The Lancet reports advances in antiretroviral drug treatment (ART) that improve life expectancy for patients living with HIV. ART is the standard treatment regime for HIV patients. While ART cannot cure HIV, a combination of medications help patients live longer and reduce the risk of HIV transmission. ART was first introduced in 1996. One year after ART was introduced, the FDA approved Combivir, a combination drug taken as a single daily tablet, which made taking daily medication HIV patients easier. Since then, ART initiation has improved by leaps and bounds, making medication management easier for patients.

The study was co-authored by a collective called “The Antiretroviral Therapy Cohort Collaboration.” Research was conducted by an international team led by the University of Bristol in the UK and funded by the UK’s Medical Research Council, Department for International Development and the European Union. The study combined data from 18 European and North American cohorts enrolled in Antiretroviral Therapy Cohort Collaboration (ART-CC). Participants included participants with HIV 16 years and older and who started ART drug therapy anytime between 1996 and 2010.

Increased life expectancy was shown for patients who have started ART since 2008 (compared to patients who started ART earlier). Participants who were on their second or third year of therapy showed greater declines in mortality. As a point of clarification, the life expectancy for patients with HIV is still lower than life expectancy for the general population. According to the results, there was limited evidence that morality declined for people who inject drugs.

There are several benefits of modern HIV therapy. ART is highly effective at targeting the virus and have fewer side effects and lower toxicity. Medication may not be the only factor contributing to longer survival. In addition, modern HIV therapy includes one pill (compared to polypharmacy required for HIV patients in the past). This encourages patients to take the drug daily and comply with the treatment, resulting in enhanced life expectancy. Other advancements in health care strongly impact life span of people living with HIV. Thus, people who have started ART recently have improved survival compared to those treated earlier. Given the high rate of comorbidities, such as cardiovascular disease, hepatitis C, and cancer, providers are now screening for and treating them. Moreover, National HIV/AIDS Strategy was introduced in 2010 – a five-year projection that details strategic plan to respond to HIV/AIDS in the United States. It is without question that this has enhanced care for patients with HIV.

Moving forward, such promising results should motivate providers to encourage at-risk individuals to not only test for HIV, but also to start ART immediately. Late HIV diagnosis and limited access to proper and routine care are two major limiting factors that may influence a patients life expectancy, regardless of whether or not the patient begins ART therapy early.

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Sonal Kumar

Sonal Kumar is passionate about combining science and storytelling. She has vast experiences outside of healthcare including marketing and advertising, print and broadcast journalism, including TV/radio production. Sonal is an alumna of Columbia University. She tweets @sonalkumar2011.