Could widespread use of combination antiretroviral therapy eradicate HIV epidemics?

Lancet Infect Dis. 2002 Aug;2(8):487-93. doi: 10.1016/s1473-3099(02)00346-8.


Current combination antiretroviral therapies (ARV) are widely used to treat HIV. However drug-resistant strains of HIV have quickly evolved, and the level of risky behaviour has increased in certain communities. Hence, currently the overall impact that ARV will have on HIV epidemics remains unclear. We have used a mathematical model to predict whether the current therapies: are reducing the severity of HIV epidemics, and could even lead to eradication of a high-prevalence (30%) epidemic. We quantified the epidemic-level impact of ARV on reducing epidemic severity by deriving the basic reproduction number (R(0)(ARV)). R(0)(ARV) specifies the average number of new infections that one HIV case generates during his lifetime when ARV is available and ARV-resistant strains can evolve and be transmitted; if R(0)(ARV) is less than one epidemic eradication is possible. We estimated for the HIV epidemic in the San Francisco gay community (using uncertainty analysis), the present day value of R(0)(ARV), and the probability of epidemic eradication. We assumed a high usage of ARV and three behavioural assumptions: that risky sex would (1) decrease, (2) remain stable, or (3) increase. Our estimated values of R(0)(ARV) (median and interquartile range [IQR]) were: 0.90 (0.85-0.96) if risky sex decreases, 1.0 (0.94-1.05) if risky sex remains stable, and 1.16 (1.05-1.28) if risky sex increases. R(0)(ARV) decreased as the fraction of cases receiving treatment increased. The probability of epidemic eradication is high (p=0.85) if risky sex decreases, moderate (p=0.5) if levels of risky sex remain stable, and low (p=0.13) if risky sex increases. We conclude that ARV can function as an effective HIV-prevention tool, even with high levels of drug resistance and risky sex. Furthermore, even a high-prevalence HIV epidemic could be eradicated using current ARV.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anti-HIV Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Disease Outbreaks*
  • Drug Therapy, Combination
  • HIV Infections / drug therapy*
  • HIV Infections / epidemiology
  • HIV Infections / prevention & control
  • Homosexuality, Male
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Models, Biological
  • Risk Factors


  • Anti-HIV Agents