A new study has claimed that in industrialised countries, people with HIV now appear to experience mortality rates similar to those of the general population in the first five years following infection.

In the study, which is published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Krishnan Bhaskaran of the Medical Research Council Clinical Trials Unit in London, and colleagues created a model, adjusted for duration of infection, to assess changes in the excess mortality among HIV-infected individuals. The data pooled covered the years 1981-2006.

The authors of the study said that as a number of studies have reported “the dramatic decreases in mortality” among HIV patients since the widespread introduction” of highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) in industrialised countries in 1996, “it is important to provide up-to-date and robust estimates of expected mortality as anti-HIV drugs and strategies continue to improve”. Such estimates “help policy makers and those planning health care to monitor the effectiveness of treatments at a population level and provide an indicator of the ongoing and likely future impact of HIV disease on health care needs,” the authors claim.

They added that considering the first years following the widespread introduction of HAART, “we have estimated an 88% reduction in excess mortality in 2000-2001 compared with pre-1996, corresponding closely to the 87% reduction in the standardised mortality ratio in 1997-2001”. More recent data show that reductions have continued to 2004-2006, with excess mortality coming in 94% lower than pre-1996 levels.

However, the authors warn that there is “continuing excess mortality, particularly evident in those infected for 10 years or more”. Ongoing monitoring of excess mortality “will be important as new treatment advances are implemented in an attempt to further reduce mortality rates among HIV-infected individuals,” the researchers concluded.