According to WHO, the “major shift” of giving people with HIV drug treatment much earlier could save 3m lives by 2025.
Three drugs, combined in a single pill, will be given to many people with HIV whose immune systems are still strong – including infants and pregnant women.
WHO hopes the number of people receiving anti-retroviral drugs will increase from 16m to 28m, about 80% of all people with HIV.
These measures will “take us a long way in reducing deaths”, said WHO’s HIV/AIDS director, Dr Gottfried Hirnschall.
“We’re recommending earlier treatment – and also safer, simpler medicines that are already widely available. We also want to see better monitoring of patients, so they can see how well they’re doing on the treatment.
“This is not only about keeping people healthy and alive – the anti-retroviral drugs block transmission, so there is the potential for a major impact in preventing epidemics within different countries.”
The combination tablet is available from five companies, and with agreed price reductions in the developing world can cost as little as $127 per patient per year.
WHO plans for drugs to be provided to many people with HIV who may currently be untreated, including children under five, pregnant and breastfeeding women, and people whose partner is uninfected. This is a major utilisation of the potential of anti-retrovirals to prevent HIV infection.
Dr Gilles van Cutsem of MSF (Medecins Sans Frontieres) commented: “There’s no greater motivating factor for people to stick to their HIV treatment than knowing the virus is ‘undetectable’ in their blood.”
The new WHO guidelines will increase the number of people in the UK who are eligible for HIV treatment.