Treating fungal infections could prevent 1 million AIDS-related deaths by 2020

13 November 2016
A microscopic view of fungus

Over 300,000 AIDS-related deaths each year could be prevented through better diagnosis and treatment of fungal infections, according to new research from the Global Action Fund for Fungal Infections (GAFFI).

Around 700,000 of the 1.5 million AIDS-related deaths in 2013 (47%) were due to the four most common lethal fungal infections. Using data on the real-life impact of existing diagnostics and generic antifungal drugs, the researchers concluded that by increasing coverage of these diagnostics and drugs, over 1 million deaths could be prevented by 2020.

One of UNAIDS’ Fast-Track targets is to reduce AIDS-related deaths to less than 500,000 by 2020 – but on current projections this target is unlikely to be achieved.

Professor David Denning of GAFFI and the University of Manchester said: “Too many people die from AIDS, most of them in the prime of life. Our analysis shows that diagnosing and treating fungal diseases complicating HIV infection will drive down AIDS deaths in the short term.”

Based on achieving approximately 60% coverage of diagnostics and antifungal medications, annual deaths could fall by 70,000 from cryptococcal disease, by 162,500 from Pneumocystis pneumonia, by 48,000 from disseminated histoplasmosis, and by 33,500 from chronic pulmonary aspergillosis (the four most common fungal infections).

Dr Meg Doherty from the Department of HIV and Global Hepatitis Programme at the World Health Organization said: “We need to do more work to better understand the contribution of fungal infections to HIV morbidity and mortality and assuring that our current recommendations on screening and treating fungal infections are implemented at country level.”

The researchers note that revision of AIDS-related death estimates downwards by UNAIDS since the research will likely alter the precise estimates, but not the overall impact of greater focus on fungal infections.

Photo credit:
iStock / Anna Gavrylova

Written by Caitlin Mahon

Content Specialist - HIV & Sexual Health