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Widespread use of anti-HIV drugs in developing countries could, paradoxically, increase the number of HIV-infected people, according to a study published in PLoS Medicine this week.

Its authors used computer models to predict how different ways of increasing access to antiretroviral therapy (ART) — a combination of three HIV drugs — might affect HIV infection rates.

They say their results show that ART is unlikely to stop the spread of HIV in poor countries unless it is combined with different ways of limiting infection rates, such as promoting safe sex.

Although ART makes it less likely that patients will spread HIV by decreasing the amount of the virus that they carry, it also slows disease progression. As a result, people on ART live longer, giving them more time to pass the virus on to others.

"This paper should not be a disincentive for funding ART, but more a discussion of the allocation of funding, and what compromise should be made between quality of care and treatment coverage," co-author Rebecca Baggaley of Imperial College in the United Kingdom told SciDev.Net.

Link to full paper in PLoS Medicine

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