AIDS stands for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, and this syndrome is caused by the entrance of HIV, human immunodeficiency virus. A study has shown that people who start anti-AIDS drugs even when their immune systems are strong have half the chance of developing AIDS-related diseases. The study showed such significant success of the early administration of anti-AIDS drugs, that the National Institutes of Health terminated the study a year early. The Strategic Timing of AntiRetrovial Virus (START) trial has prompted the stakeholders to prefer the requirement of health institutions to administer anti-retrovial treatments as soon as possible to patients who test HIV-positive.
So why would health institutions and specialists not treat HIV-positive patients early in any case? Understanding why the START trial was necessary to conduct before scientists could conclude the usefulness of early drug administration can help people understand the complications that come with HIV.
Certainly, money is an issue. The cocktail of drugs that come with preventing AIDS can wind up costing patients good money. Currently, a single pill that combines three different medications into a once-a-day dosage is available. However, it is not always as simple as taking a pill; once a person starts taking the medication, they have to work closely with their healthcare providers to monitor the effects of the medication. That is where other issues with treatments come in.
Agents that attack the body’s cells and immune system can be combatted with medications and substances. However, because of microevolution, the surviving agents that are not eliminated reproduce other resistant agents. That means that medications can lose their effect over time. In some cases, the drugs do not work at all, or they just stop working. Furthermore, side-effects of the treatment can make things really difficult for patients. The concern over these issues provides legitimate reasons to not start preventative treatments early on. Beyond that, the indicator that the condition of a patient is alarming is when the CD4 level is below 500. The CD4 measurement is a way of telling how strong a person’s immune system is. If the CD4 level is stable, than it might seem like there is no reason to provide treatments until the immune system is unstable. Well, this idea is exactly what the START trial has proven wrong. It is definitely worth starting treatments early, even if CD4 levels are not below 500. Whatever the reason, the empirical results are loud and clear at indicating that people who started early treatment lived longer and were less likely to develop diseases.
Can this finding spark a global health revolution? It quite possibly can. Although guidelines in the United States support treatment regardless of CD4 counts, the World Health Organization recommends treatment when CD4 levels are at 500 or below. Unfortunately, that recommendation is useless in countries where people are already sick by the time they can receive treatment. However, because of the results of the study, there is a stronger initiative to put money into distributing treatments. HIV and AIDS are considered international issues, and the participants of the study came from various countries. If other nations follow the United States guideline to start treatment upon diagnosis, than patients can live longer. The further benefit of having HIV patients live longer is that more studies can be conducted with their participation to learn more about the virus and potentially find a cure.
By Tania Dawood
The Huffington Post- Don’t Wait To Start HIV Treatment, According to Groundbreaking Global Study
Los Angeles Times- Quick start to HIV drug treatment can cut risk of illness, death in half
NewsDay- New Aids treatment rule hailed
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs- HIV/AIDS
Featured Photo Credit to ZEISS Microscopy’s Flickr- Creative Commons License