In advance of UN forum on HIV/AIDS health experts urge countries to commit will, resources

In advance of UN forum on HIV/AIDS health experts urge countries to commit will, resources

Some 30 leading experts in the fight against HIV/AIDS called today on governments to use an upcoming United Nations meeting on the issue to pledge concrete action -- and commensurate funds -- to the battle.

"At the forthcoming UN General Assembly special session on AIDS we call on the world's political leaders to commit the financial resources and the political will to bring this epidemic under control," read a joint statement adopted by the experts, who convened in Mont Pelerin, Switzerland at a meeting organized by the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS). "We will not succeed until leaders in every sector of society come together in a historic global response to this most urgent of crises," the statement stressed.

The experts reviewed statistics on the costs of the epidemic and endorsed the proposed estimate of $7-$10 billion needed to mount an effective response to AIDS in developing countries. According to the expert group, investment now would prevent tens of millions of new infections while extending the lives of millions of people already living with HIV.

The Executive Director of UNAIDS, Dr. Peter Piot, emphasized the importance of this two-pronged approach. "The world does not need to make a choice as to whether to care for AIDS patients or prevent the spread of HIV," he said. "The two are complementary and work in tandem - this is not an either/or situation."

Today's statement comes at a time when antiretroviral drugs are becoming more affordable in the wake of commitments made recently by some of the world's major pharmaceutical companies.

While calling for antiretroviral therapy to be made as widely available as possible, the expert group warned against unmonitored or careless use. "Antiretroviral therapy is an integral part of the response to AIDS, so we must strengthen health systems in the poorest countries to make it accessible," said Stefano Vella, President of the International AIDS Society. "Antiretroviral therapy must be applied with care and consideration. Without careful use it can do more harm than good, as the therapy rapidly loses its effectiveness if the virus becomes drug-resistant."

The meeting was convened by UNAIDS, the International AIDS Society, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. It brought together representatives of UN agencies and governments as well as medical, behavioural and policy experts from around the world.