The advent of accessible antiretroviral drugs in South Africa has sparked what an AIDS studies is calling "the fastest life expectancy gains in public health history." Details follow.
An unprecedented seven-year study in South Africa has unveiled some rather remarkable findings: providing AIDS medications to more than 101,000 HIV positive South Africans has increased the adult life expectancy of the entire region by more than eleven years in one decade.
The L.A. Times distills the two studies on South Africa's decade-long drug program that are detailed in the new issue of the journal Science:
The program was administered by nurses in rural health clinics in an impoverished region of about 100,000 people. Treatment consisted primarily of daily doses of antiretroviral therapy, or ART, drugs, which patients take every day for their entire lives. Patients picked up their medication at a rural clinic once a month.
In 2003, the year before the drugs were available, 29% of all residents were infected with HIV and half of all deaths there were caused by AIDS. Life expectancy in the region was just over 49 years.
By 2011, life expectancy had grown to 60 1/2 years — "the most rapid life expectancy gains observed in the history of public health," said study senior author Till Barnighausen, a global health professor at the Harvard School of Public Health.
Based on that increase in longevity, researchers determined just how many years of life were effectively "gained" among residents as a result of ART intervention. They used that figure and the total expense of the program to calculate a cost-effectiveness ratio of $1,593 per life-year saved.
"There are many factors that contribute to life expectancy but the single most important one was the expansion of the ARV treatment programme,” said Professor Salim Abdool Karim, director of the Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa and a member of the Lancet South Africa team. "That increase in life expectancy is nothing short of stunning. You don’t see those kinds of increases in the real world.”
Interestingly enough, overall HIV infection rates in South Africa has increased six percent in the seven years the two studies have taken place.