At the end of 2009, 5.2 million people living in low- and middle-income countries were receiving the life-saving antiretroviral therapy (ART).
The latest figures released by WHO suggest a 12-fold increase in the number of people receiving HIV treatment between 2003 and 2009, globally. The single biggest jump—1.2 million people—was recorded in 2009. The Western Pacific Region has experienced a nine-fold increase in the number of people receiving treatment in the last five years.
With the new initiation criteria, WHO is expecting the number of people eligible for immediate ART to grow from the current level of 10 million to 15 million and, correspondingly, the cost of HIV treatment to escalate up to US$ 10 billion.
Health experts, however, believe that the costs associated with earlier treatment will be offset by reduced hospital and death costs, increased productivity in terms of fewer days sick, a drop in the number of children orphaned by AIDS, and a reduction in HIV infections.
But beyond costs, earlier initiation of ART will also result in long-term benefits in terms of prevention of HIV transmission, thus strengthening the effect of other prevention measures.