We’ve all heard that HIV is “no longer a death sentence,” but a new report covering 88,000 people in 18 countries shows that people infected with HIV in the last ten years are living 10 years longer than those who contracted the virus during the mid-1990s. In fact, the life expectancy of a 20-year-old with HIV is 78, pretty close to the average human life expectancy of 79.
The report appeared in The Lancet HIV, a speciality medical journal focused on HIV clinical practice.
People with HIV started living longer after the introduction of anti-retroviral therapy (ART) medications in the mid ‘90s. These medications involved a “cocktail” of different pills, some of which had serious side effects. These days, ART medications have become more simplified — most cocktail medications have been placed into a single pill taken once a day with fewer side effects, ensuring that more people stick to their treatment and have better quality of life.
But medication alone doesn’t account for the increased life span. The report’s authors say that the streamlined management of HIV has allowed doctors to focus moreso on other ailments affecting people with HIV, like heart disease and diabetes. It’s also likely that the prolonged lifespans are the result of increased access to medications through health insurance plans.
Despite the prolonged lifespans, millions of people living with HIV remain unable to access care because of lack of access to consistent affordable healthcare. In fact, one-third of the estimated 1.2 million Americans living with HIV can’t afford healthcare, and if Trumpcare passes, that number will be even higher.
It’s also important to help expand worldwide access to pre-exposure prophylactics (PrEP), medications that prevent the transmission of HIV, to help reduce the prevalence of HIV overall. Even people with health insurance who could benefit most from PrEP aren’t receiving prescriptions because many medical professionals remain ignorant about the drug.