Antiretroviral therapy (ART) is a combination of drugs used to treat HIV.
It is not a cure, but can control the virus so that patients can live a longer, healthier life and reduce the risk of transmitting HIV to others.
Antiretroviral drugs prevent HIV from multiplying, which reduces the amount of the virus in the body.
Having less HIV in the body gives the immune system a chance to recover and fight off infections and cancers.
By reducing the amount of HIV, antiretrovirals also reduce the risk of transmitting the virus to others.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), everyone who has HIV should be offered antiretroviral drugs as soon as possible after diagnosis.
The health agency’s latest policy removes previous limits suggesting patients wait until the disease progresses.
The WHO has also recommended people at risk of HIV be given the drugs to help prevent the infection taking hold.
UNAIDS said these changes could help avert 21 million AIDS-related deaths and 28 million new infections by 2030.
The recommendations increase the number of people with HIV eligible for ARVs from 28 million to 37 million across the world.
The challenge globally will be making sure everyone has access to them and the funds are in place to pay for such a huge extension in treatment. Only 15 million people currently get the drugs.
Michel Sidibe, of UNAIDS, added: “Everybody living with HIV has the right to life-saving treatment. The new guidelines are a very important steps towards ensuring that all people living with HIV have immediate access to antiretroviral treatment.”
The WHO announcement comes after extensive research into the issue.
A US National Institutes of Health study due to run until 2016 was stopped early after an interim analysis found giving treatment straight after diagnosis cut deaths and complications, such as kidney or liver disease, by half.