Ten years ago, AIDS patients had to take as many as three dozen pills a day, but a single pill AIDS medication is on the horizon and the life of AIDS patients may be about to get a great deal simpler.
The pill combines three drugs made by Bristol-Myers Squibb and Gilead. Experts say the single pill would make it easier for people to take their medicine regularly.
The failure of patients to take their drugs faithfully is a major problem, because it allows H.I.V. to develop resistance to the drugs. Missing even 8 percent of doses can let a new version of the virus that is immune to the medications grow.
The Food and Drug Administration is expected to approve this drug as soon as this week.
"It makes the burden of taking pills much less than having to take them multiple times a day," said Dr. Anthony Fauci, an immunologist and director of the Infectious Diseases Institute at the National Institutes of Health.
The single pill is good news for the 900,000 Americans who are living with AIDS. But the reality is that most of the 40 million people living with the disease around the world will not be able to access this medication as easily.
"Another thing that is important is that it will likely be the same price as the drugs are now when sold separately, and they're making it available to developing nations at a lower cost," said Fauci, who has been researching AIDS since the early 1980s. "This is added good news coming on the heels of a pill developed by a company in India that has one pill containing three drugs, but you take it twice a day. It's only for developing nations."
In January 2006, the World Health Organization estimated that AIDS has killed 25 million people since it was first recognized in 1981. In 2005 alone, AIDS claimed between 2.8 and 3.6 million people, 570,000 of them children. More than 60 percent of all people living with HIV are in sub-Saharan Africa.
"Whenever you can make it easier to dispense drugs in places where there is little stable health care available, it's a good thing," Fauci said. "Some people stop taking drugs when they have to take so many, and this will help counter that. And it's important that the new pill will be available at a discount price."
Fauci said that the pill will be just as effective as the drug cocktails that are currently being used, and the side effects should stay the same.
But Fauci worries about complacency about the disease, because treatment is becoming so effective.
"Now that's it's more imminently treatable, so there are some populations who will not see it as as serious, but it has nothing do with how the pill will be distributed," he said.