Access to HIV Drug Therapies Remains Limited

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Rob Phelps near his home in Provincetown, Cape Cod.

Rob Phelps near his home in Provincetown, Cape Cod. A triple-drug regimen has changed his life, he says. But the therapy isn't cheap. Phelps estimates it costs $60,000 a year. Massachusetts and the federal government provide financial assistance. Richard Knox, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Richard Knox, NPR

Ten years ago, Rob Phelps was at his lowest point. The Provincetown, Mass., resident says he was close to dying.

"My normal body weight is 165 and I was down to 113," Phelps says. "I felt like I was holding onto a little thread."

Phelps has HIV and at the time, the prognosis wasn't good. "Provincetown used to be a place where they said, you know, men with AIDS came to die."

But 10 years ago was a turning point for Phelps, and also for HIV treatment. Researchers developed a triple-drug therapy that stopped the virus' assault on his body.

This week, more than 24,000 people will gather in Toronto for the biennial International AIDS Conference. They will be observing that milestone, when researchers came up with drug regimens that transformed AIDS from an invariably fatal disease to an infection that can be held at bay indefinitely.

But participants will also be tackling one of the greatest current AIDS challenges: Only 20 percent of those who need the expensive triple-drug treatments are getting them.

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