A team of American and Canadian researchers has published a study that demonstrates dramatic increases in the life expectancies of HIV-positive adults who take combination anti-retroviral therapy (ART). Among infected populations, however, there remains a staggering gap between the life expectancies of white and/or gay patients and those of color.
In an interview with Healthline, Kyle Murphy of the National Minority AIDS Council said, “Across the board, communities of color fare worse than their white counterparts. They are diagnosed much later and are less likely to be retained in care or to be virally suppressed.”
The study considered a sample population of 23,000 infected adults from different backgrounds. It found that a 20 year-old gay man with HIV can expect to live to 77 years old — the same age as his non-infected peer — while other populations face more dire prognoses. HIV-positive intravenous drug users can expect to live to 49, and non-white populations with HIV can expect to live to 58. One reason for the disparity is that gay men tend to be tested for HIV more regularly and go on ART right away. Others include cultural and institutional barriers to treatment and stigmatization.
With the potential for more HIV-positive patients to live well into their later years, physicians are adjusting their approaches to the burgeoning infected geriatric population.
Dr. Mark Smith, president of the California HealthCare Foundation, told Healthline, “The irony is that now I have to worry about the same things I worry about with any 70-year-old — lipids, blood pressure, etc. Five years ago, frankly, I didn’t spend a lot of time on mildly elevated blood pressure in people with HIV.”
Although this study suggests new hope for the growing HIV-positive population, it doesn’t indicate the effectiveness of these treatments on newly discovered recombinant strains of the virus. Nor does it represent a resolution to the epidemic — the most effective way to combat HIV remains prevention and treatments that extend one’s life are no substitute for not needing to be treated.
But when viewed in light of the increasing ambivalence toward safer sex among gay men, is this study as much cause for concern as it is for celebration?