HIV treatment produces economic returns through increased work and education

July 11, 2012
Dr. Harsha Thirumurthy

Dr. Harsha Thirumurthy

HIV-infected adults who receive antiretroviral therapy often begin or resume productive work, and children living in households with infected adults who are on treatment are more likely to attend school than those in households with untreated adults, according to a review article published July 10 in the journal Health Affairs.

Lead author Harsha Thirumurthy, PhD, and colleagues identified, summarized and considered the implications of key study findings about the economic impact of antiretroviral therapy programs.
The article is part of a themed issue of the journal, which examines aspects of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the program initiated by the United States in 2003 to support countries in their battle against HIV/AIDS.
“Economic effects of programs occurred at the levels of the people receiving antiretroviral therapy, their households and their employers,” said Thirumurthy, assistant professor of health policy and management at the Gillings School of Global Public Health and a faculty fellow at UNC’s Carolina Population Center, both at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “These benefits should be considered when weighing the overall benefits of providing antiretroviral therapy against its costs.”
The authors state that economic benefits are an important consideration, particularly in the context of discussions about the future of PEPFAR. The U.S. program to address global HIV and AIDS is the largest investment to date of any country to fight a single disease. Many antiretroviral therapy programs have been supported by PEPFAR.
“At a time when the United States is slowly recovering from a severe economic recession, when federal budget deficits are high, and all budgetary expenditures are under increased scrutiny, questions may be raised about the value of maintaining PEPFAR as a major U.S. foreign assistance program,” Thirumurthy said. “We believe that these studies indicate that economic returns on investments in antiretroviral therapy programs are likely to be large and important enough to warrant consideration in policy debates.”
The authors further suggest that a modest case can be made in favor of having private companies in HIV-affected countries provide antiretroviral therapy to their employees and dependents, thus sharing some of the burden of funding HIV treatment.
Thirumurthy presented the study results at a Health Affairs briefing July 10 in Washington, D.C.
Myron Cohen, MD, J. Herbert Bate distinguished professor of medicine, microbiology and immunology in the UNC School of Medicine and of epidemiology in the Gillings School of Global Public Health, and Pierre Barker, MD, clinical professor of pediatrics in the medical school also presented at the briefing. Cohen is associate vice chancellor for global health and director of the Institute for Global Health at UNC.
Thirumurthy’s co-authors included Omar Galárraga, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Health Services, Policy, and Practice at Brown University; Bruce Larson, PhD, associate professor of international health at the Boston University School of Public Health; and Sydney Rosen, MPA., associate professor at the Center for Global Health and Development, Boston University.


UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health contact: Linda Kastleman, communications editor, (919) 966-8317 or