May 19, 2011
On Friday at a conference in Rome, health ministers from 18 African nations with some of the world's highest HIV prevalence rates praised a landmark study that demonstrates the benefits of early treatment.
The study's results, released the day before, found that patients who began HIV treatment before their health declined had a 96 percent lower risk of transmitting the virus to a partner. The trial involved 1,763 serodiscordant heterosexual couples in nine countries.
Conference attendees said a key benefit of early treatment is lower mother-to-child HIV transmission rates. "A generation of children without this illness is being born" thanks to treatment, said Marco Impagliazzo, head of the Roman Catholic charity Sant'Egidio, which hosted the conference. Sant'Egidio operates HIV testing and treatment programs in 10 African countries.
While contraception as an HIV prevention tool was not officially addressed at the conference, Malawian Health Minister Mary Shaba said the Catholic Church has "relaxed" its position on condoms.
"The best form of prevention is to offer treatment to many," said Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, who heads Italy's conference of bishops. "There also needs to be a major education effort to change mentalities and cultures and to reaffirm the dignity of human beings. A particular sign of hope and of victory over evil are the 14,000 healthy children born from HIV-positive women."