Groundbreaking study: early antiretroviral use prevents transmission of HIV

A study of serodiscordant couples (where one partner is HIV-positive and the other is not) has revealed that early and consistent use of antiretroviral medicines by the infected partner can reduce the risk of transmitting the virus to the uninfected partner by up to 96%.

Poor antiretroviral coverage in Europe

Coverage of antiretroviral therapy (ART) remains low in the WHO European Region. In the Region’s low- and middle-income countries in 2009, only 19% of adults in need received ART, in contrast to the global average of 38%.

In some countries in the eastern part of the Region, up to 60% of people living with HIV are unaware of having been infected. Although people who inject drugs comprise the majority of those with HIV/AIDS in the east, they represent less than 25% of all people receiving ART.

European action plan for HIV/AIDS

European health policy-makers will discuss the draft European action plan for HIV/AIDS 2012–2015 at a meeting of the Eighteenth Standing Committee of the Regional Committee for Europe, on 14–15 May in Geneva, Switzerland. The plan will be submitted to Member States for adoption at the sixty-first session of the WHO Regional Committee for Europe, in September 2011.

The study results reinforce WHO/Europe’s call to increase the earlier uptake of HIV testing and counselling, to ensure universal access to treatment and care for people living with HIV/AIDS and to provide more of them with ART sooner. ART for people who inject drugs has the added benefit of reducing the risk of HIV transmission to their sexual partners; such transmission is thought to account for a growing proportion of heterosexual HIV transmission in the European Region.

Confirmation that ART treatment prevents the transmission of HIV brings the goal of the European Action Plan – “to halt and begin to reverse the spread of HIV by 2015” – one step closer.