In the absence of a vaccine against the AIDS virus, the most effective treatment method is aggressive treatment of HIV infections with cocktails of antiretroviral drugs, an approach known as highly active antiretroviral therapy or HAART. A new study conducted in British Columbia has found that the infection rate in the province has been halved since 1996 by the widespread adoption of HAART, researchers reported online Sunday in the journal Lancet and at the International AIDS Conference in Vienna. For every 100 new patients treated, the infection rate went down 3%, Dr. Julio Montaner, director of the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, reported.
"This study strengthens the evidence that maximizing HAART coverage within current medical guidelines will help to curb the spread of HIV," Dr. Nora D. Volkow, director of the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse, said in a statement. The agency funded the study. "These findings are especially important since new HIV cases have remained stubbornly steady in the United States at a rate of about 56,000 per year for the past 10 years."
British Columbia is a good place for such a study because it is relatively small — population about 4,420,00 — and everyone in the province receives free medical care. In 1996, the number of new HIV diagnoses was 702 per year, and only 837 people were receiving HAART. By 2009, Montaner said, 5,413 people were receiving HAART, and the number of new diagnoses had fallen to 338 per year. The largest decrease was among users of injection drugs, a finding that was somewhat surprising because of the belief among many clinicians that such drug abusers were unlikely to follow treatment regimens.