Measuring HIV's Cost: Treatment Adds Years, but Many Still Miss Out

By Harder, Ben | Science News, March 5, 2005 | Go to article overview

Measuring HIV's Cost: Treatment Adds Years, but Many Still Miss Out


Harder, Ben, Science News


Medical care for people infected with HIV has saved about 2 million years of life so far in the United States. Even so, more than 200,000 HIV-infected people here are not benefiting from available drugs, according to new estimates. Most of those missing out on treatment are unaware that HIV has ravaged their immune systems.

During much of the 1980s, as the AIDS epidemic gathered steam, HIV infection led almost inevitably to weakened immunity and deadly, AIDS-related infections. That situation improved in stages. First, critical treatments to prevent opportunistic infections came into use in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The mid-1990s saw wide availability of the first successful antiretroviral therapies, which preserve the immune systems of people with HIV. Newer antiretrovirals have further improved care. The available treatments add more than 10 years to each patient's life, on average.

To estimate the total years of life that the HIV therapies have saved, Rochelle P. Walensky of Harvard Medical School in Boston and her colleagues considered one year at a time. They factored in how many people in the United States were diagnosed with and treated for AIDS, which drugs were then available, and how long each therapy extends survival, according to generally accepted estimates.

Between 1989 and 2002, Walensky's team estimates, treatment saved about 1.8 million years of life. Furthermore, drugs given to HIV-infected pregnant women averted nearly 3,000 infections among newborns, extending their collective life expectancy by almost 190,000 years. Walensky reported these calculations in Boston on Feb. 25 at the 12th Conference of Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections.

To date, Walensky says, "at least 2 million years of life have been saved as a direct effect of advances in HIV care. …

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Measuring HIV's Cost: Treatment Adds Years, but Many Still Miss Out
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