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UN efforts to broaden availability of anti-AIDS drugs gain momentum

UN efforts to broaden availability of anti-AIDS drugs gain momentum

United Nations efforts to broaden access to anti-AIDS drugs are gaining momentum, with tangible results emerging in one out of five African countries, according to officials of both the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).

Thanks to a UN initiative known as "Accelerating Access," the number of patients who have access to the drugs - known as antiretrovirals - in countries that have negotiated agreements with pharmaceutical companies has increased over the past year and a half, UNAIDS said today. Prices of some antiretroviral drugs have been cut on average by 85 per cent in sub-Saharan African countries where agreements have been negotiated through the initiative.

Fourteen States - including 10 in Africa - are part of the "Accelerating Access" process, while a total of 72 countries worldwide have indicated their interest in the effort.

"This is just the beginning, but the results so far show that significant progress can be made in accelerating access to antiretrovirals in the countries that need it the most," said Dr. Tomris Türmen, Executive Director in charge of HIV/AIDS at WHO. "The biggest challenge remains bringing broad based care and support, including antiretrovirals, to as many people as possible living with HIV/AIDS."

"Accelerating Access" involves "fast track" support for developing countries that have formally indicated that they want UN assistance to expand access to HIV care, support and treatment. The initiative emerged out of a partnership between the United Nations and five pharmaceutical companies - Boehringer-Ingelheim, Bristol-Myers Squibb, F. Hoffmann - La Roche, GlaxoSmithKline, and Merck & Co., Inc. Other members of the industry have since signed on to the initiative.

Dr. Türmen warned that the task ahead remains daunting. "With 95 per cent of the world's 40 million HIV-infected people living in developing countries, better and faster access to care is essential," he said. "The challenge now is to improve access to care, including treatments for opportunistic infections and antiretroviral therapy, in the hardest-hit regions of the world."