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Friday, November 27, 1998 Published at 08:25 GMT


Health

Aids deaths in Europe plummet

The HIV virus has killed millions around the world

The number of people dying from Aids in Europe has fallen by 80% since 1995, according to new research.

The huge drop in Aids deaths is due to the introduction of new drug therapies which can keep the virus at bay.


Dr Amanda Mocroft and HIV+ Michael Edwards discuss the success of combination drugs
The most dramatic fall in deaths was amongst those who were most seriously ill.

People who had a significantly compromised immune system were eight times less likely to die after September 1995.

Writing in The Lancet, the researchers say patients on a combination of three drugs were the least likely to die.


[ image: Dr Amanda Mocroft: drugs' effectiveness may wear off]
Dr Amanda Mocroft: drugs' effectiveness may wear off
They were twice as likely to survive as those on only two drugs.

Dr Amanda Mocroft, from University College London, who led the study, said: "Most of the reduced mortality can be attributed to new treatments and the way in which treatments are combined."

The figures are broadly similar to studies in the US where combination therapy was introduced earlier than in Europe.

Deaths

The researchers studied over 4,000 HIV-infected patients across 17 European countries and Israel between September 1994 and March 1998.


[ image: The huge fall in death rates is due to drug therapy]
The huge fall in death rates is due to drug therapy
The highest death toll in this period was in northern Europe which includes the UK, Denmark, north Germany, Ireland, Netherlands, Norway and Sweden.

Some 33.1% of people with HIV died.

The majority of deaths were among gay men, but they were closely followed by intravenous drug users.

Some 32.2% of HIV positive homosexuals, 29.2% of IV drug users, 23.6% of haemophiliacs or people who had received infected blood transfusions and 20.7% of heterosexuals died.

Most of the people who died in the period were in the 25 to 44 age group.

However, people over 45 - athough less likely to be HIV positive - were more likely to die from the virus.

Into the future

The researchers say they need more funding to keep up their studies to see what happens in the future, for example, if death rates continue to fall or the virus develops resistance to the drugs.

People taking the drugs often find that the effectiveness of a particular combination of drugs wears off and they have to take a new cocktail.

For some people, combination therapy does not work.


[ image: Michael Edwards is worried about the side effects of combination therapy]
Michael Edwards is worried about the side effects of combination therapy
The drugs also have side effects, which vary according to each individual, and have to be taken to a strict schedule.

This deters some people from taking them.

Michael Edwards has been HIV positive for four years. He is reluctant to take combination therapy because of the side effects.

This is despite the fact that he works at Aids charity London Lighthouse and has seen many people benefit from the drugs.

The Lighthouse has lost funding partly due to the success of the drugs.

Aids worldwide

Despite the fall in Aids deaths in Europe, the picture worldwide is less optimistic.

A recent report by the World Health Organisation and UNAIDS, the United Nations Aids organisation stated that HIV rates had risen by 10% in the last year - although infection rates in Europe and the US have remained stable in the last 10 years.

More than 33m in the world are HIV positive.

Millions of people continue to die from the disease. Most are from developing countries which cannot afford the expensive new drug treatments.

This means Aids is still the leading cause of premature death worldwide.

More than 11 million people have died from the disease over the last 17 years.



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