3 million HIV-infected people could get anti-AIDS drugs by 2005 - UN agency

3 million HIV-infected people could get anti-AIDS drugs by 2005 - UN agency

The United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) today launched new guidelines aimed at improving AIDS treatment in poor countries in a bid to benefit millions of people currently unable to access life-saving therapies.

WHO made its announcement jointly with the International AIDS Society at the XIV International AIDS Conference in Barcelona. The agency said the new guidelines simplify highly complex anti-retroviral drug (ARV) therapy so that it can be used in settings lacking adequately trained medical staff and sophisticated laboratories.

Currently, fewer than 5 per cent of people who require treatment in developing countries can access ARVs. Africa, the continent that has been hardest hit by the HIV/AIDS pandemic, is even less well served, with fewer than 2 per cent of those needing the life-saving drug therapy able to get it.

WHO said today that potentially, at least 3 million people needing care could get ARVs by 2005 - a more than tenfold increase in the developing world.

"For the first time we now have the chance to apply a simplified, easy-to-follow public health approach to AIDS treatment rather than complex individual treatment regimes," explained WHO Director-General Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland. "This, combined with the falling costs of medicines, means it should be possible to extend the life-span of those living with HIV in resource-limited settings."

In the United States, the introduction of triple combination ARV therapy in 1996 led to a 70 per cent decline in AIDS deaths, according to WHO. The same profound effects have been felt in developing countries such as Brazil, where AIDS deaths decreased by 73 per cent since the introduction of ARV therapy.