A study of HIV/AIDS patients in two African countries including Zimbabwe and published in the British journal Lancet found the risk of death in the early stages of the disease was much reduced if patients took a low-cost antibiotic in addition to antiretroviral drugs.
VOA correspondent Michael Lipin in Washington reported on the study which showed patients taking the drug, co-trimoxazole, in combination with ARVs, had a 50 percent lower risk of death in the first 18 months.
Professor Diana Gibb of the United Kingdom's Medical Research Council, a co-author of the study, said: "We studied patients who were starting HIV treatment and found that in the group that took co-trimoxazole alongside ARVs, mortality was half what it was in the group which started on ARVs alone."
"We know that ARVs on their own reduce HIV mortality by as much as 90 percent; what our study found was that the use of co-trimoxazole reduces it further still," Gibb told VOA.
The study analyzed some 3,179 Ugandan and Zimbabwean participants in the so-called Development of Antiretroviral Therapy in Africa trials conducted by the Medical Research Council in the two countries for almost five years. All participants involved had a CD4 blood cell count - a measure of immune strength - below 200 at the start of the study.
The UN World Health Organization recommends co-trimoxazole prophylaxis for all HIV-infected patients with a CD4 count below 350, especially in resource-limited settings where bacterial infections and malaria are commonplace in HIV-positive people.
The study found that the use of the antibiotic was inconsistent in Uganda and Zimbabwe, usually "initiated or continued at discretion of the treating clinician" despite the availability of the UN guidelines.
"Co-trimoxazole is very low-cost, it's generic and manufactured locally in many African countries, so it is widely available and is already in wide use as a treatment for infections such as pneumonia," Gibb said. "It's a pill a day - just a few cents."
Zimbabwean physician Joshua Sibanda, who is based in South Africa, said the antibiotic is already in wide use in Zimbabwe, but the research has shown how effective the drug can be when taken in the early stages of AIDS.
Chairwoman Martha Tolana of the Zimbabwe Network for Positive Women told VOA Studio 7 reporter Sandra Nyaira that the findings on the antibiotic’s effectiveness in reducing HIV mortality are very welcome to the many in the country who are struggling with the disease.
National Aids Council Programs Manager Raymond Yekeye said using inexpensive drugs along with antiretrovirals will help his organization to reduce the number of deaths from AIDS.