Universal access to HIV/AIDS services requires ‘drastic’ measures, says UN’s health arm

18 August 2006
Dr. Anders Nordström

The goal of delivering universal access to HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and care by 2010 will not be reached unless more health workers are made available, said the acting head of the United Nations health agency at the closing session of the International AIDS Conference in Toronto today.

Anders Nordström, Acting Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), called on delegates to create “a borderless society for health, one that embraces all who can make a difference, from political leaders, scientists, health workers to young people, persons living with HIV, the poor, sex workers, injection drug users, people in prisons.”

While the funds available for HIV/AIDS are growing, so are the needs, said Dr. Nordström. Access to affordable drugs is critical, while the lack of a sufficient number of health workers calls for “drastic measures,” he added.

“Universal access must include access to a skilled and motivated health worker. No improvement in financing or medical products can make a lasting difference in people's lives until the crisis in the health workforce is solved,” he said.

Dr. Nordström noted that earlier this week WHO launched its new “Treat, Train, Retain” plan, which is aimed at providing HIV services and better working conditions for workers.

In other news from the conference today, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) highlighted how HIV-positive pregnant women remain one of the most poorly served of all HIV-positive populations.

“Despite the fact that the global HIV response is now awash in funding, pregnant women still don’t have access to the drugs that will prevent them from passing the virus on to their children,” said Arletty Pinel, Chief of UNFPA Reproductive Health Branch.

In a statement, the UNFPA noted that, at a General Assembly special session in 2001, delegates agreed to increase the percentage of HIV-positive pregnant women receiving antiretroviral prophylaxis to 80 per cent by 2005. Not one country has yet reached that goal, said the UNFPA, and global coverage rates remain at a dismal 9 per cent. Dr. Pinel added that HIV infection compounds the already existing problem of poor access to reproductive health care in general.

“Today, we have a situation of hundreds of thousands of women dying in childbirth each year,” she said. “If we can’t even address the problem of women dying in childbirth, then it should come as no surprise that we are failing to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV.”

 

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