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HIV Update: WHO, UN to Use 'Treatment as Prevention' Approach to Eliminate Global Pandemic

May 11, 2016 07:35 AM EDT

In hopes to control the spread of HIV, World Health Organization and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS are shifting their attention to an approach called "treatment as prevention" to eliminate the global pandemic.

The "treatment as prevention" approach has been used in Denmark since its introduction in 1996.

According to a new study published in the journal The Lancet, the increasing treatment coverage for HIV resulted to a dramatic decrease in the number of new HIV incidence. In 2013, the country had only 1.4 new HIV infections per 1,000 men who have sex with the same gender.

"The Danes have done what nobody else in the world has been able to do," said Sally Blower, the study's senior author and the director of the Center for Biomedical Modeling at UCLA, in a statement. "They have almost eliminated their HIV epidemic, and they have achieved this simply by providing treatment."

For the study, researchers used sophisticated statistical analysis of data from the ongoing Danish HIV Cohort Study, which began in 1995. They then utilized CD4-staged Bayesian back-calculation approach to estimate the number of Danish men who had coitus with the same gender, and who were infected with HIV each year between 1995 and 2013.

The researchers found out that there are only about 600 men in Denmark who have sex with men, and who were infected with HIV but had not been diagnosed by 2013. They also discovered that increasing treatment coverage and decreasing incidence of HIV were highly correlated.

According to the study authors, the success of "treatment as prevention" approach in Denmark is made possible by the country's universal health care system and the availability of free treatment for all people who have been infected with HIV. Another factor affecting the success of the approach is the high adherence of the Danes to the treatment. The study reported that 98 percent of HIV patients in Denmark take all their medication regularly.

With their findings, researchers are now urging world leaders to follow Denmark's treatment program in their own countries in order to eliminate HIV epidemics around the world.

"Even in resource-rich countries, this would take a huge amount of money and effort," noted Blower. "The goal of elimination through treatment is aspirational, but Denmark has shown that -- at least in resource-rich countries -- it's achievable."

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