Drug-resistant HIV on the rise in sub-Saharan Africa

QMI Agency

Too many HIV-positive people in developing countries are skipping their meds or not taking them properly, and that means the virus can mutate and become resistant to treatment, a new report shows.

The rate of drug-resistant HIV has been increasing in sub-Saharan Africa over the last decade, according to researchers at the University College London and the World Health Organization who looked at studies on 26,000 HIV-positive people in developing countries.

They found drug resistance rose 29% per year in East Africa and 14% in Southern Africa.

"Our findings suggest a significant increase in prevalence of drug resistance over time since antiretroviral rollout in regions of sub-Saharan Africa," the authors said.

However, the authors say the increase was "not unexpected," given how much drug treatment coverage has expanded in the region. Natural virus mutation always leads to some degree of drug resistance, even in developed countries.

But the WHO said the bulk of problem lies with how patients are using the drugs. By interrupting treatment or taking meds incorrectly, people can increase the likelihood the virus will mutate.

"We need to make sure that people get the right medicines and that they stick to their treatment. This includes making sure that the drugs are easy to take, the supply is reliable, and that patients are followed closely to identify cases of treatment failure at an early stage," Dr. Joseph Perrïens of the WHO's HIV department said.

A survey of 12 low- and middle-income countries shows that health facilities lose contact with 38% of people taking antiretrovirals.

"This not only means that they are themselves more likely to become sick, it also increases the likelihood that drug resistance will emerge and the resistant virus could be transmitted to others," the organization said.

The WHO has called for "stronger tracing and routine surveillance."

The findings are published in the medical journal The Lancet.