Nearly 60 States plan to boost care and treatment for AIDS, UN agency says

Nearly 60 States plan to boost care and treatment for AIDS, UN agency says

Efforts to improve and speed up access to care for people living with HIV/AIDS are gaining new momentum, but support is still urgently needed to ensure widespread treatment, the key United Nations agency fighting the epidemic said today.

According to the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), 58 States have expressed interest in collaborating with the agency to gain access to lower-priced drugs to fight the disease. Access to these medicines is becoming possible in the context of a public-private partnership started last year by five major pharmaceutical companies - Boehringer Ingelheim, Bristol Myers Squibb, Glaxo Wellcome, Hoffman La Roche and Merck - and five UN agencies -- the World Health Organization (WHO), World Bank, UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and UNAIDS.

Speaking to reporters in New York, Rolf Krebs, the Chairman of Boehringer Ingelheim GMBH of Germany, underscored the critical role of the UN in the partnership. "Only the UN, at the request of countries, could see whether the conditions in the countries could be established for treatment with rather complicated drugs."

He said that some States were not ready to accept the lower-cost drugs because they did not have the infrastructure needed to distribute them - "not only logistical infrastructure but also medical infrastructure" such as the ability to test for HIV. Noting that the proposed Global AIDS and Health Fund would aim to redress that problem, he said, "We are very grateful for the support from Kofi Annan and also for his initiative now in setting up the Fund, and we hope very much that this Fund will be filled."

"One thing we don't have is time," he warned. "As soon as possible we have to start even if we have to start with a couple of thousand patients."

Drug costs, he noted, were still too high for the least developed countries, "so there is still some way to go." Unfortunately, it was not possible to lower the prices any further, as the prices were already very near cost, he added.

In a statement released today, UNAIDS Executive Director Peter Piot echoed this concern. "Significant price discounts are being achieved, but prices of HIV/AIDS drugs are still far beyond the reach of the majority of people who need them," he said.

While efforts are under way to ensure support for comprehensive care programmes in hard-hit countries, UNAIDS warned that access will remain uneven until countries are able to afford AIDS-related drugs and diagnostic equipment, strengthen their health systems with the necessary infrastructure and trained staff, and provide adequate voluntary counselling and testing services as well as psychosocial support.