Adoption of the 2015 World Health Organization guidelines on antiretroviral therapy: Programmatic implications for India.
The therapeutic and preventive benefits of early initiation of antiretroviral therapy (ART) for HIV are now well established. Reflecting new research evidence, in 2015 the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended initiation of ART for all people living with HIV (PLHIV), irrespective of their clinical staging and CD4 cell count. The National AIDS Control Programme (NACP) in India is currently following the 2010 WHO ART guidelines for adults and the 2013 guidelines for pregnant women and children. This desk study assessed the number of people living with HIV who will additionally be eligible for ART on adoption of the 2015 WHO recommendations on ART. Data routinely recorded for all PLHIV registered under the NACP up to 31 December 2015 were analysed. Of the 250 865 individuals recorded in pre-ART care, an estimated 135 593 would be eligible under the WHO 2013 guidelines. A further 100 221 would be eligible under the WHO 2015 guidelines. Initiating treatment for all PLHIV in pre-ART care would raise the number on ART from 0.92 million to 1.17 million. In addition, nearly 0.07 million newly registered PLHIV will become eligible every year if the WHO 2015 guidelines are adopted, of which 0.028 million would be attributable to implementation of the WHO 2013 guidelines alone. In addition to drugs, there will be a need for additional CD4 tests and tests of viral load, as the numbers on ART will increase significantly. The outlay should be seen in the context of potential health-care savings due to early initiation of ART, in terms of the effect on disease progression, complications, deaths and new infections. While desirable, adoption of the new guidance will have significant programmatic and resource implications for India. The programme needs to plan and strengthen the service-delivery mechanism, with emphasis on newer and innovative approaches before implementation of these guidelines.