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Antiretroviral cocktails dramatically cut rate of disease

Antiretroviral cocktails dramatically cut rate of disease

Cocktails of anti-HIV drugs cut the rate of progression from infection with HIV to AIDS by 86% compared with patients not receiving any treatment, British researchers said on Friday. They found that the effectiveness of highly active antiretroviral therapy, a combination of at least three treatments from two drug classes, increased with time.

Until now the benefits over several years were not known because trials of the drugs, which must be taken for life, were limited to a follow-up of a year or less.

"Our results indicate that HAART reduced the rate of progression to AIDS by 86% and that its effectiveness, compared with no treatment, increased with time since initiation," said Jonathan Sterne of the University of Bristol, in southwestern England, who headed the research team.

But HAART was less beneficial for patients who were thought to have been infected through intravenous drug use.

The anti-HIV drug cocktails have transformed the illness in Western countries from a death sentence to a chronic disease, but doctors have been concerned about long-term impact. The treatments consist of drugs that interrupt the life cycle of HIV in different ways, allowing the creation of cocktails that fight the rapidly mutating virus on several fronts at once.

The scientists studied more than 3,200 patients involved in a Swiss study after January 1996 when HAART first became available in Switzerland. They compared the impact on patients of HAART with dual therapy and no drug treatment. The results are reported in The Lancet.

"The very large benefits of HAART that are achievable in developed countries should remind us of the urgency of providing treatment for millions of people who could benefit in other parts of the world, particularly sub-Saharan Africa," said Sterne.

About 39 million people worldwide are living with HIV. Sub-Saharan Africa is the worst affected region. About 1 million of the 6 million people in poor countries who need the life-saving drugs are receiving them, according to the World Health Organization. WHO had hoped to have 3 million people on treatment by the end of 2005 but admitted in June it would not meet the target. (Reuters)

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