0
Editorials |

Life Expectancy in Africa: Back to the Future? FREE

Deborah Cotton, MD, MPH, Deputy Editor
[+] Article and Author Information

Potential Conflicts of Interest: Disclosures can be viewed at www.acponline.org/authors/icmje/ConflictOfInterestForms.do?msNum=M11-1587.

Corresponding Author: Deborah Cotton, MD, MPH, American College of Physicians, 190 N. Independence Mall West, Philadelphia, PA 19106; e-mail, dcotton@acponline.org.


Ann Intern Med. 2011;155(4):265-266. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-155-4-201108160-00359
Text Size: A A A

From 1950 to 1990, life expectancy in sub-Saharan Africa steadily rose. It then abruptly plateaued and began to rapidly decline; AIDS accounted for most of this reversal of fortune (1). That a single disease could lead to such a rapid and dramatic setback was shocking.

Moreover, because AIDS is transmitted primarily through sex, young adults were being affected disproportionately, tearing at the very fabric of African societies by decimating the ranks of essential workers, including teachers, laborers, engineers, nurses, and doctors. By killing their parents, the epidemic also created a generation of orphans, many destined to die of HIV themselves. Africa's future looked bleak (2).

Contemporaneously, the rapid dissemination of highly effective combination HIV antiviral therapies was resulting in precipitous declines in short-term mortality from AIDS in the developed world (3), but there was uncertainty about the feasibility of using these drug regimens in Africa. Some experts argued that the cost of such expensive drugs was prohibitive in countries with a total per capita health expenditure of only a few dollars a year, and that even if introduced, would divert precious resources from more cost-effective prevention efforts (45). Further, African systems of care were said to be substandard, health care workers in short supply, and patients unsophisticated. All of these factors, it was argued, would make it impossible to ensure adherence to the complicated drug dispensing and monitoring that these regimens require, and thus use could even be detrimental owing to transmission of drug-resistant virus. By the turn of this century, it seemed that there would be 2 AIDS realities going forward: a chronic but increasingly manageable disease in the developed world, and an unstoppable, unspeakable tragedy in Africa and other resource-constrained countries.

Although it is somewhat of an oversimplification, many clinicians consider the XIII International AIDS Conference, held in Durban, South Africa, in July 2000 to be the pivotal event that altered their mindset regarding AIDS in Africa. Whether out of curiosity or commitment, international attendees traveled far from Durban to visit clinics and communities, many for the first time. They came away overwhelmed by the degree of devastation but also deeply inspired by the sight of communities mobilizing their limited resources to care for the sick, bury the dead, and raise the orphans left behind. These health care professionals could no longer accept the status quo, no matter how rational and facile the arguments. They knew that they possessed the tools and knowledge to effectively treat AIDS. Somehow, the work had to be done.

What happened in Africa and other resourced-constrained countries in the ensuing decade was a triumph of medicine and public health. Governments, nongovernmental organizations, foundations, and committed individuals challenged global trade rules and regulations, ultimately procuring and distributing low-cost generic versions of patented medicines on a massive scale (6). Persons courageously self-identified as being HIV-positive and created the sorts of advocacy and educational organizations that had been pivotal in advancing treatment elsewhere. Large numbers of HIV nurses, doctors, and public health workers, many still in training, went to work in Africa. Along with African colleagues, they scaled up programs of antiretroviral treatment, abandoning professional hierarchies and crossing cultural divides to create teams that leveraged complementary skills, and shifted tasks. Bilateral training programs were set up between African universities and those in the developed world to begin to address workforce shortages.

A decade later, more than a third of the 10 million HIV-infected persons in Africa who need antiretroviral therapy as defined by current guidelines are receiving it (7). Adherence to treatment regimens has been shown to be similar to that in developed countries (89). Programs to identify and treat HIV-infected patients in difficult-to-reach rural areas are increasing. Although enormous challenges remain, few if any would have predicted this degree of success a mere decade ago.

In this issue, Mills and colleagues (10), using models based on patient-level data obtained in Uganda, conclude that life expectancy for young HIV-infected adults initiating combination antiretroviral therapy now approaches overall life expectancy for all young Ugandan adults, mirroring earlier findings in developed countries (11). It is important to note that this study was conducted in a comprehensive public sector health system that encompassed both urban and rural areas and used an intensive, coordinated approach to follow-up and treatment. However, projected life expectancy gains were not uniform, differing among various groups of patients in important ways. Adolescents and men had significantly fewer years of life expectancy gained than adult women, suggesting the need to ensure that systems of care are appropriately tailored to facilitate access and retention for all. In addition, patients starting therapy at low CD4 counts had less increase in life expectancy than if therapy was initiated sooner in the disease course, but until recently HIV treatment in Africa has generally been started only when CD4 counts fall below 250 cells/mm3. Finally, patients were almost all treated with older regimens that are more complicated and toxic than those currently in use in developed countries. While evolving therapeutic strategies and guidelines raise both new options and new questions about the most appropriate, cost-effective approaches going forward (12), it is almost certain that life expectancy for persons with HIV infection in Africa will continue to increase in coming years.

In the past few months, 2 pivotal clinical trials convincingly demonstrated that some of the same antiretroviral drugs used for HIV treatment were highly effective in preventing infection when taken by HIV-negative men who have sex with men (13) and dramatically decrease viral load and risk for transmission to others when taken by the HIV-positive partner in serodiscordant couples (14). Most recently, on 13 July 2011, it was announced that in a large clinical trial in Kenya and Uganda (15) and Botswana (16), the HIV-negative partner in serodiscordant couples, whether male or female, was also dramatically protected against infection with HIV by these antiretroviral therapies. With stunning swiftness, the era of HIV “treatment as prevention”—long imagined—has arrived.

Already, there is discussion regarding how much money should be spent on these new drug prevention strategies compared with other older approaches, such as male circumcision, microbicides, condoms, and expanded testing. Political debate centers on whether, especially given the current global economic downturn, money designated for HIV treatment in Africa would be better spent in areas for which there is more perceived “bang for the buck,” such as malaria prevention, childhood immunization, and addressing neglected tropical diseases (17). But often forgotten in these debates is the unique nature of AIDS as a killer of young adults, of those on whom the very survival of societies depends (18).

Given this reality of AIDS epidemiology, coupled with its high prevalence in Africa, enabling HIV-infected young adults—its workers and parents—to live a normal lifespan is fundamental to returning Africa to its positive health trajectory of a few decades ago. Stunningly, a mere 30 years after one of the worst pandemics in history suddenly appeared, and although still without a vaccine or cure, we now possess the tools not only to treat but to comprehensively control AIDS in Africa. Despite the challenges, and amid stark, painful choices, somehow the work must be finished.

References

Dorling D, Shaw M, Davey Smith G.  Global inequality of life expectancy due to AIDS. BMJ. 2006; 332:662-4.
PubMed
CrossRef
 
Piot P.  Global AIDS epidemic: time to turn the tide. Science. 2000; 288:2176-8.
PubMed
 
Palella FJ Jr, Delaney KM, Moorman AC, Loveless MO, Fuhrer J, Satten GA. et al.  Declining morbidity and mortality among patients with advanced human immunodeficiency virus infection. HIV Outpatient Study Investigators. N Engl J Med. 1998; 338:853-60.
PubMed
 
Creese A, Floyd K, Alban A, Guinness L.  Cost-effectiveness of HIV/AIDS interventions in Africa: a systematic review of the evidence. Lancet. 2002; 359:1635-43.
PubMed
 
Marseille E, Hofmann B, Kahn JG.  HIV prevention before HAART in sub-Saharan Africa. Lancet. 2002; 359:1851-6.
PubMed
 
Hoen E, Berger J, Calmy A, Moon S.  Driving a decade of change: HIV/AIDS, patents and access to medicines for all. J Int AIDS Soc. 2011; 14:15.
PubMed
 
WHO, UNAIDS, UNICEF.  Towards universal access: scaling up priority HIV/AIDS interventions in the health sector; 2010. Accessed atwww.who.int/hiv/pub/2010progressreport/en/on 8 July 2011.
 
Orrell C, Bangsberg DR, Badri M, Wood R.  Adherence is not a barrier to successful antiretroviral therapy in South Africa. AIDS. 2003; 17:1369-75.
PubMed
 
Mills EJ, Nachega JB, Buchan I, Orbinski J, Attaran A, Singh S. et al.  Adherence to antiretroviral therapy in sub-Saharan Africa and North America: a meta-analysis. JAMA. 2006; 296:679-90.
PubMed
 
Mills EJ, Bakanda C, Birungi J, Chan K, Ford N, Cooper CL. et al.  Life expectancy of persons receiving combination antiretroviral therapy in low-income countries: a cohort analysis from Uganda. Ann Intern Med. 2011; 155:209-16.
 
Antiretroviral Therapy Cohort Collaboration.  Life expectancy of individuals on combination antiretroviral therapy in high-income countries: a collaborative analysis of 14 cohort studies. Lancet. 2008; 372:293-9.
PubMed
 
Walensky RP, Wood R, Ciaranello AL, Paltiel AD, Lorenzana SB, Anglaret X, et al. CEPAC-International Investigators.  Scaling up the 2010 World Health Organization HIV Treatment Guidelines in resource-limited settings: a model-based analysis. PLoS Med. 2010; 7:1000382.
PubMed
 
Grant RM, Lama JR, Anderson PL, McMahan V, Liu AY, Vargas L, et al. iPrEx Study Team.  Preexposure chemoprophylaxis for HIV prevention in men who have sex with men. N Engl J Med. 2010; 363:2587-99.
PubMed
 
.  Treating HIV-infected people with antiretrovirals protects partners from infection: findings result from NIH-funded international study [Press release]. Bethesda, MD: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases; 2011.
 
University of Washington International Clinical Research Center.  Partners PrEP Study. Accessed athttp://depts.washington.edu/uwicrc/research/studies/files/PrEP_Backgrounder.pdfandhttp://depts.washington.edu/uwicrc/research/studies/files/PrEP_FAQ.pdfon 13 July 2011.
 
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  The TDF2 trial. Accessed atwww.cdc.gov/nchhstp/newsroom/PrEPHeterosexuals.htmlon 14 July 2011.
 
Denny CC, Emanuel EJ.  US health aid beyond PEPFAR: the Mother & Child Campaign. JAMA. 2008; 300:2048-51.
PubMed
 
Mayer KH, Hamilton CD.  Distributing US health aid [Letter]. JAMA. 2009; 301:1339-40.
PubMed
 

Figures

Tables

References

Dorling D, Shaw M, Davey Smith G.  Global inequality of life expectancy due to AIDS. BMJ. 2006; 332:662-4.
PubMed
CrossRef
 
Piot P.  Global AIDS epidemic: time to turn the tide. Science. 2000; 288:2176-8.
PubMed
 
Palella FJ Jr, Delaney KM, Moorman AC, Loveless MO, Fuhrer J, Satten GA. et al.  Declining morbidity and mortality among patients with advanced human immunodeficiency virus infection. HIV Outpatient Study Investigators. N Engl J Med. 1998; 338:853-60.
PubMed
 
Creese A, Floyd K, Alban A, Guinness L.  Cost-effectiveness of HIV/AIDS interventions in Africa: a systematic review of the evidence. Lancet. 2002; 359:1635-43.
PubMed
 
Marseille E, Hofmann B, Kahn JG.  HIV prevention before HAART in sub-Saharan Africa. Lancet. 2002; 359:1851-6.
PubMed
 
Hoen E, Berger J, Calmy A, Moon S.  Driving a decade of change: HIV/AIDS, patents and access to medicines for all. J Int AIDS Soc. 2011; 14:15.
PubMed
 
WHO, UNAIDS, UNICEF.  Towards universal access: scaling up priority HIV/AIDS interventions in the health sector; 2010. Accessed atwww.who.int/hiv/pub/2010progressreport/en/on 8 July 2011.
 
Orrell C, Bangsberg DR, Badri M, Wood R.  Adherence is not a barrier to successful antiretroviral therapy in South Africa. AIDS. 2003; 17:1369-75.
PubMed
 
Mills EJ, Nachega JB, Buchan I, Orbinski J, Attaran A, Singh S. et al.  Adherence to antiretroviral therapy in sub-Saharan Africa and North America: a meta-analysis. JAMA. 2006; 296:679-90.
PubMed
 
Mills EJ, Bakanda C, Birungi J, Chan K, Ford N, Cooper CL. et al.  Life expectancy of persons receiving combination antiretroviral therapy in low-income countries: a cohort analysis from Uganda. Ann Intern Med. 2011; 155:209-16.
 
Antiretroviral Therapy Cohort Collaboration.  Life expectancy of individuals on combination antiretroviral therapy in high-income countries: a collaborative analysis of 14 cohort studies. Lancet. 2008; 372:293-9.
PubMed
 
Walensky RP, Wood R, Ciaranello AL, Paltiel AD, Lorenzana SB, Anglaret X, et al. CEPAC-International Investigators.  Scaling up the 2010 World Health Organization HIV Treatment Guidelines in resource-limited settings: a model-based analysis. PLoS Med. 2010; 7:1000382.
PubMed
 
Grant RM, Lama JR, Anderson PL, McMahan V, Liu AY, Vargas L, et al. iPrEx Study Team.  Preexposure chemoprophylaxis for HIV prevention in men who have sex with men. N Engl J Med. 2010; 363:2587-99.
PubMed
 
.  Treating HIV-infected people with antiretrovirals protects partners from infection: findings result from NIH-funded international study [Press release]. Bethesda, MD: National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases; 2011.
 
University of Washington International Clinical Research Center.  Partners PrEP Study. Accessed athttp://depts.washington.edu/uwicrc/research/studies/files/PrEP_Backgrounder.pdfandhttp://depts.washington.edu/uwicrc/research/studies/files/PrEP_FAQ.pdfon 13 July 2011.
 
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  The TDF2 trial. Accessed atwww.cdc.gov/nchhstp/newsroom/PrEPHeterosexuals.htmlon 14 July 2011.
 
Denny CC, Emanuel EJ.  US health aid beyond PEPFAR: the Mother & Child Campaign. JAMA. 2008; 300:2048-51.
PubMed
 
Mayer KH, Hamilton CD.  Distributing US health aid [Letter]. JAMA. 2009; 301:1339-40.
PubMed
 

Letters

NOTE:
Citing articles are presented as examples only. In non-demo SCM6 implementation, integration with CrossRef’s "Cited By" API will populate this tab (http://www.crossref.org/citedby.html).

Comments

Submit a Comment
Submit a Comment

Summary for Patients

Clinical Slide Sets

Terms of Use

The In the Clinic® slide sets are owned and copyrighted by the American College of Physicians (ACP). All text, graphics, trademarks, and other intellectual property incorporated into the slide sets remain the sole and exclusive property of the ACP. The slide sets may be used only by the person who downloads or purchases them and only for the purpose of presenting them during not-for-profit educational activities. Users may incorporate the entire slide set or selected individual slides into their own teaching presentations but may not alter the content of the slides in any way or remove the ACP copyright notice. Users may make print copies for use as hand-outs for the audience the user is personally addressing but may not otherwise reproduce or distribute the slides by any means or media, including but not limited to sending them as e-mail attachments, posting them on Internet or Intranet sites, publishing them in meeting proceedings, or making them available for sale or distribution in any unauthorized form, without the express written permission of the ACP. Unauthorized use of the In the Clinic slide sets will constitute copyright infringement.

Toolkit

Want to Subscribe?

Learn more about subscription options

Advertisement
Related Articles
Topic Collections
PubMed Articles
Forgot your password?
Enter your username and email address. We'll send you a reminder to the email address on record.
(Required)
(Required)