Scientists say a study in Africa shows that AIDS drugs can increase life expectancy in patients to nearly normal levels. One of the authors was Dr. Jean Nachega of South Africa's Stellenbosch University and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, Maryland. He says the major finding is that patients in Africa receiving antiretroviral therapy for HIV "can expect to live a near-normal lifespan." The findings appear in the Annals of Internal Medicine.Over the last thirty years, the HIV/AIDS epidemic cut fifteen to twenty years or more from life expectancy rates in Africa. Dr. Nachega says those rates had gained sharply in many countries in the past because of access to clean water and expanded immunization programs. The study took place in Uganda, where life expectancy at birth is an average of about fifty-five years. The study involved twenty-two thousand patients being treated for HIV. The results were promising but were different for men and women. At age twenty, life expectancy for men was another nineteen years. Women could expect to live thirty more years. At age thirty-five, men could expect to live to fifty-seven. Women could expect to live to sixty-seven. Dr. Nachega says men generally start treatment later than women. By then the disease is less treatable. He says one reason men wait may be because they "spend more time looking for a job and ... a way to survive. The second reason is obviously the issue about stigma," which still affects "a majority of people in the community."Also, programs for pregnant women mean that women have more chances to get tested for HIV and to receive treatment. Dr. Nachega says health officials need to deal with this "gender imbalance." He also says, "We should no longer see treatment and prevention totally separately." He says treatment of HIV/AIDS is a part of prevention. "Because by treating people, and hopefully treating them earlier, they are less likely to transmit the virus to their sexual partner."Studies also show that giving antiretroviral drugs to uninfected people can help protect them from HIV. Two recent studies found that taking medication daily reduced the risk of infection in heterosexuals. An earlier study showed that it reduced the risk among gay men.
For VOA Special English, I'm Carolyn Presutti.