World AIDS Day: a chance to reflect on significant progress

It's been 25 years since the first World AIDS Day, commemorated annually on 1 December. So much has changed in that time: our geopolitical landscape, the economy, technological innovation and, most relevant to HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), medical advances.

The last two and a half decades have, of course, brought massive improvements in terms of the education and knowledge of the general public, along with the availability of preventative measures to help reduce the number of new infections. In addition, increased awareness has helped change the behaviour of HIV+ve patients, preventing infection with a different strain, which leads to worse outcomes.

The medication "pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP)" has also been introduced and, for babies born of HIV+ve mothers, there are now strong regimes for reducing mother-to-child transmission.

An insurable risk

Most relevant to life insurance, newer treatments and antiretroviral drugs have improved suppression of the virus in HIV+ve individuals. This means that there is a far longer period of clinically "non-diseased" state before a patient may develop AIDS.

Being HIV+ve is no longer considered a death sentence, but more a state of chronic disease, which – like most chronic diseases – is often now insurable. Of course, some companies have been striving to offer life insurance to HIV+ve individuals for some time. What is new is that recent studies give insurers sufficient, credible data on which they can offer longer durations of cover at a cheaper price.

Insurances of up to 25 years are now possible, something which was essential to facilitate the purchase of mortgage-related life covers.

No longer a barrier

It is important to differentiate between being infected with HIV and having AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome). The latter occurs once the immune system has eventually been overcome by the HIV virus and opportunistic infections begin to overwhelm the patient.

Despite medical progress, those whose disease has progressed to AIDS will likely remain uninsurable until medical science has found a way to reverse this state.

HIV is no different to other diseases; consumers should buy insurance when they are fit and healthy whenever possible. But for those who are unable to fulfil the criteria, HIV infection is no longer a barrier to buying; affordable insurance is now a genuine option.

Earlier in 2012, Swiss Re's Centre for Global Dialogue hosted a number of experts on the issue of AIDS and HIV to mark the 30th anniversary of the virus' discovery. To find out more, visit the event's web pages.

Published 30 November 2012

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