Study Says AIDS Drugs Can Raise Life Expectancy in Africa

    Study Says AIDS Drugs Can Raise Life Expectancy in Africa
    Photo: AP
    Michel Sidibe, head of the United Nations AIDS agency, speaks at a conference on HIV/AIDS in Rome Sunday.

    This is the VOA Special English Health Report.

    Scientists say a study in Africa shows that AIDS drugs can increase life expectancy in patients to nearly normal levels.

    One of the authors was Dr. Jean Nachega of South Africa's Stellenbosch University and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, Maryland.

    JEAN NACHEGA: The overall key finding of our study is that the patient in Africa receiving antiretroviral therapy for HIV can expect to live a near-normal lifespan."

    The study was released in Rome this week at a conference of the International AIDS Society. The findings appear in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

    Over the last thirty years, the HIV/AIDS epidemic cut fifteen to twenty years or more from life expectancy rates in Africa. Dr. Nachega says in many countries these rates had risen sharply.

    JEAN NACHEGA: "All what we've been able to gain in the past with the access to clean water, expanded immunization programs were totally reversed with the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa. So now we are seeing some good news that investing in antiretroviral programs, those investments are now paying off."

    The study took place in Uganda. There, life expectancy at birth is an average of about fifty-five years.

    The study involved twenty-two thousand patients being treated for HIV. The results were promising but were different for men and women.

    At age twenty, life expectancy for men was another nineteen years. Women could expect to live thirty more years. At age thirty-five, men could expect to live to fifty-seven. Women could expect to live to sixty-seven.

    Dr. Nachega says men generally start treatment later than women. By then the disease is less treatable.

    JEAN NACHEGA: "Men spend more time looking for a job and spending more time away from their family to try to find a way to survive, I think may be one of the [reasons]. The second reason is obviously the issue about stigma, which is still quite affecting a majority of people in the community."

    Also, programs for pregnant women mean that women have more chances to get tested for HIV and to receive treatment.

    Dr. Nachega says health officials need to deal with this "gender imbalance." He supports the idea of considering treatment for HIV/AIDS as a form of prevention.

    JEAN NACHEGA: "We should no longer see treatment and prevention totally separately. Treatment, by itself, it is also part of prevention. Because by treating people, and hopefully treating them earlier, they are less likely to transmit the virus to their sexual partner."

    Studies also show that giving antiretroviral drugs to uninfected people can help protect them from HIV. Two studies released last week found that taking medication daily reduced the risk of infection in heterosexuals. An earlier study showed that it reduced the risk among gay men.

    And that's the VOA Special English Health Report. I'm Steve Ember.


    Contributing: Joe de Capua