World Health Organization guidelines should not change the CD4 count threshold for antiretroviral therapy initiation
The World Health Organization (WHO) currently recommends that HIV-positive adults start antiretroviral therapy (ART) at CD4 counts <350 cells/μl. Several countries have changed their guidelines to recommend ART irrespective of CD4 count or at a threshold of 500 CD4 cells/μl. Consequently, WHO is currently revising its treatment guidelines and considering recommending ART initiation at CD4 counts <500 cells/μl. Such decisions are critically important, as WHO guidelines inform healthcare policies in developing countries and are used by activists in their advocacy work. Changing the CD4 initiation point from 350 to 500 cells/μl would, however, be premature and have profound cost implications on Global Fund, President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and developing country health budgets. We should be willing to campaign for such a change in guidelines despite cost implications, if supported by evidence. However, the evidence remains outstanding.
S Afr J HIV Med 2013;14(1):6-7. DOI:10.7196/SAJHIVMED.906
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