Guidelines released overnight by the World Health Organisation (WHO) have affirmed the removal by the Australian Government of prescribing restrictions for medicines to treat HIV and serve as a reminder for people living with HIV of the importance of starting treatment immediately on diagnosis, according to Positive Life NSW.
The guidelines have also reinforced the importance of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) being available to all people at risk of contracting HIV, and served as a boon for efforts by organisations such as Positive Life to ensure its availability in NSW.
The revised Guideline on When to Start Antiretroviral Therapy and on Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis for HIV
released by the WHO in Geneva included two key recommendations.
The first, that antiretroviral therapy (ART) should be initiated in all people (including adults, pregnant and breastfeeding women, adolescents and children) living with HIV at any CD4 count, was based on evidence from clinical trials and observational studies released since 2013. Those trials showed earlier use of ART resulted in better clinical outcomes for people living with HIV compared to delayed treatment.
A CD4 cell count is a measure of immune system health and a key indicator of how well the immune system of a person with HIV is working.
The second, that PrEP should be offered as an additional prevention choice for people at substantial risk of contracting HIV as part of combination prevention approaches, was based on clinical trial results which confirmed the efficacy of PrEP in preventing people contracting HIV in a wide variety of settings and populations.
“The release overnight by the WHO of these revised guidelines shows Australia was ahead of the curve when prescribing restrictions for antiretroviral therapies based on CD4 count were removed by the Australian Government in April 2014,” Positive Life CEO Craig Cooper said.
“Positive Life exists to represent the interests of people living with HIV in NSW. In Australia the Strategic Timing of Antiretroviral Treatment (START) study established and now the WHO has confirmed that, in terms of treatment, those interests are best served by starting treatment immediately on diagnosis.
“For people living with HIV the revised guidelines serve as a reminder of the benefits of starting treatment immediately and, if not currently receiving treatment, of the need to speak with their doctor about their options,” he said.
Mr Cooper also said the revised guidelines as they related to PrEP provided encouragement.
“We are eager to continue our work with government and our other partners in this issue toward achieving universal access to PrEP,” he said.