'Early diagnosis, new drugs key in Aids fight'

CAPE TOWN • Developing new antiretroviral (ARV) drugs and using technology for early diagnosis are among steps needed to sustain momentum in fighting HIV/Aids and ending the disease as a public health threat by 2030, UNAIDS said in a report yesterday.

The United Nations Aids agency said that by June this year around 21 million people were receiving life-prolonging ARV treatment, with rapid progress seen over the past five years when the numbers of people accessing medication nearly doubled.

"The pace of scale-up has been particularly remarkable in eastern and southern Africa, the region most affected by the epidemic," said the "Right to Health" report, released in Khayelitsha township, some 30km from Cape Town.

The number of people on treatment in the region surpassed all other regions combined in 2010 and at present accounts for 60 per cent of all people on treatment. South Africa led the world with the number of people on treatment, at 4.2 million, followed by India, Mozambique and Kenya which have more than one million being treated.

UNAIDS said the worldwide expansion of ARV therapy was the main factor behind a 48 per cent decline in deaths from Aids-related illnesses, from a peak of 1.9 million in 2005 to one million in 2016.

New first-line ARVs, such as dolutegravir, which cause fewer side-effects and suppress viral loads more quickly, will help countries such as South Africa save money and treat more people, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi said.

In September, Reuters reported a new deal for combination pills using dolutegravir that caps prices at US$75 (S$102) per patient a year, with Africa expected to benefit first.

Last year a major milestone was reached, when for the first time more than half of all people living with HIV worldwide were accessing ARV therapy, said the report.

But the disease remains a significant killer. Aids-related illnesses are the leading cause of death among women of reproductive age (15-49 years) globally, and they are the second leading cause of death for young women aged 15-24 years in Africa, said the report.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 21, 2017, with the headline ''Early diagnosis, new drugs key in Aids fight''. Print Edition | Subscribe