AIDS Treatment Also Benefits Health, Economics of People Without HIV, Penn Study Shows

In rural Malawi, roughly 10 percent of the adult population has HIV. At the peak of the epidemic, in the 1990s and early 2000s, nearly everyone knew someone infected with or affected by the virus—what Hans-Peter Kohler, Frederick J. Warren Professor of Demography in Penn Arts and Sciences, describes as a generalized epidemic. Life expectancy dropped dramatically.

Then, around 2008, a cocktail of drugs today known as ART, or antiretroviral therapy, became more widely available in rural Malawi and other parts of sub-Saharan Africa. Though there is still no cure for HIV, people on treatment can now live with the virus without developing full-blown AIDS. ART also reduces the likelihood of HIV transmission.

Now a research team including Kohler has found that the availability of ART also improves the well-being of HIV-negative people who don’t receive the medicine and who aren’t directly affected by the epidemic. This is potentially powerful enough to help the local economy because, even in settings with HIV prevalence, most people are HIV-negative.

The research team, which also included Victoria Baranov of Melbourne University and Daniel Bennett of the University of Chicago, published its findings in the December issue of the Journal of Health Economics.

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