Young people on the latest HIV medication now have almost the same life expectancy as that of the general population, according to a report by the University of Bristol.

The study, published in The Lancet, found that 20-year-olds who started antiretroviral therapy in 2010 are projected to live up to a decade longer than those who first used it 20 years ago. Researchers looked at nearly 90,000 HIV patients from Europe and North America, basing their life expectancy predictions on death rates during the first three years after patients began their treatment.
While the study authors put the success down to ‘newer drugs with fewer side effects’, charities say there are still too many people unaware that they have HIV.

So, what is antiretroviral therapy?

First used in 1996, antiretroviral therapy, or ART, involves a combination of drugs that stop the replication of the HIV virus in the patient’s body. ART treatment can prevent damage to the immune system, as well as halting transmission of the disease. With fewer side effects owing to progressions in the medication, the efficiency of ART continues to improve. The World Health Organization recommends that the process is started as soon as possible following a positive diagnosis.

What more needs to be done?

Dr Michael Brady, Medical Director at the Terrence Higgins Trust, told the BBC that although the study highlighted how much things had changed since the ‘HIV epidemic’ of the 1980s, more needed to be done to ‘integrate primary care with HIV specialist services’.
“As it stands, the healthcare, social care and welfare systems simply aren’t ready to support the increasing numbers of people growing older with HIV”, said Dr Brady, who is also a Sexual Health and HIV Consultant at Kings College Hospital. “We need a new model of care and we need a major shift in awareness and training around HIV and ageing, so that we’re ready to help older people live well in later life.”
Whilst the percentage of people with undiagnosed HIV has fallen since ART was introduced, it is estimated that one in eight people with the virus remain undiagnosed. The only way to be certain of your HIV status is to get yourself tested.
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