The number of people infected with HIV who received anti-virus therapy in Europe had nearly doubled between 2009 and 2013. This therapy let’s these people live longer, healthier and more productive lives, as mentioned in the report by European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.
Latvia is mentioned in this report as the only country in Europe where anti-retroviral therapy for HIV patients was launched too late, when the concentration of CD4 cells in the blood is low – a mere 200 per mm3 of blood.
In 28 European countries HIV treatment usually starts when there are 350 cells per mm3 of blood. In 15 European countries HIV treatment starts even sooner – at 500 cells per mm3 of blood. Austria, France, Italy and Romania have adopted a simplified HIV treatment approach, usually after HIV is first diagnosed in a patient.
«Oncology, cardiology and other medical fields in Latvia are ruled by the notion that prevention and timely remedy is cheaper than combating a prolonged disease. With HIV, on the other hand, Latvia does not use this approach. Medical institutions usually wait for the disease to enter the final stage and only then is anti-viral therapy is launched, which proves ineffective in the vast majority of cases. On top of that, it is also expensive and does not yield any positive results,» – says infectologist Gunta Sture. This policy is also reflected in statistics – Latvia remains an anti-leader in Europe in terms of HIV infection spread.
A recently published study START by the US National Institute of Health mentions – if HIV treatment is started at the stage, when concentration of CD4 cells in blood is high (500 per mm3) the risk of the virus progressing to AIDS and other unpleasant consequences is reduced by 53%.
Ever since 2007, Latvian infectologists have been trying to make sure HIV treatment in Latvia is begun when there are at least 350 CD4 cells per mm3. Unfortunately, efforts up until now have been fruitless.
«HIV treatment in the world has a much more preventive side to it: the sooner treatment is begun, the better the results will be. Everyone benefits – the patient, society and doctors. The risk of HIV infection spreading is effectively reduced to zero as a result of timely treatment,» – says Sture.
According to Sture, because there is a strong belief among Latvian residents that HIV is «a disease of drug addicts and gays», HIV diagnosis is very weak – it is possible that only 50% of people infected with HIV are actually informed of their condition. Only 40% of those people actually receive anti-virus therapy.
The UN programme for combating HIV has calculated that every dollar invested in HIV treatment provides 17 dollars of economic benefit. Early therapy helps save 43% of future costs for other problems caused by HIV infection – tuberculosis, cancer, diabetes, etc. According to a report by UNAIDS, benefits in terms of human resources would be ever greater – AIDS epidemic would be completely beaten in a span of 35 years. This would bring the global economy 760 million life years.