HIV/AIDS Treatment: Remarkable Advances Lead to Longevity
Due to rapid and far-reaching medical advancements over the past four decades, individuals with HIV/AIDS are now living healthier and more fulfilling lives. HIV/AIDS was once a disease characterized by little hope for survival, but the focus has shifted from short-term survival to aging well.
Outcomes of the past
Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) was first identified in the United States in the early 1980s and reached record-high levels of diagnosis during the 1990s. Before it arrived on U.S. soil, there was little to no research on the disease and the medical profession was not prepared for its emergence.
By far the most significant leap forward was the development of antiretroviral therapy (ART), which first became available in 1996. ART is treatment with multiple drugs that inhibit the ability of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) or other types of retroviruses to multiply in the body. HIV attacks the body’s immune system and can cause AIDS.
Since then, the prognosis for individuals who are using ART continues to improve with each passing decade. Two to three years after initiating ART, individuals who started treatment between 2008 and 2010 had a 53 percent lower death rate than those who started between 1996 and 1999. Amazingly, 20-year-olds who started ART in 2008 or later now have a life expectancy of 78 years.
Depending on their country of residence, HIV patients’ current life expectancy is essentially equivalent to their peers without the disease.
Another contributing factor to the success of HIV treatment has been the changing perceptions of the disease. As HIV/AIDS treatment became more effective, doctors began viewing their HIV patients in a different light. What was once a certain death sentence had evolved into a long-term chronic condition.
More recent advancements
The outlook for HIV/AIDS has improved significantly, even looking over the course of a 10-year period. Data comparing 2005 to 2015 shows a 33.4 percent lower death rate from HIV/AIDS overall at the end of that period. With better access to resources and education, people with AIDS are dying less of other causes, including violence and suicide.
Primary care for AIDS patients has also improved now that more is known about the syndrome. Doctors take greater care to address heart disease and control diabetes by putting AIDS patients on life-extending medications. Also, hepatitis B and C are no longer leading causes of death for this population, due to better screening.
Patients are encouraged to focus on the long-term health effects of smoking, substance abuse and mental health issues, and to make the necessary changes in their behavior if they’re to make significant health improvements.
Where do we go from here?
Living with HIV/AIDS in the modern era is far from easy, but for many people, the future is looking better. Some patients still require up to 25 pills per day to slow the progression of HIV/AIDS and manage their symptoms. Early intervention with ART, however, can help people live long and healthy lives.
More education on the improvements in HIV management can encourage compliance with early treatment, and that will bring HIV-positive patients the same life expectancy—and quality of life—they once enjoyed.