Access to HIV treatment grew significantly last year – UN report

Access to HIV treatment grew significantly last year – UN report

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Countries in every region of the world are making substantial progress in increasing access to HIV treatment, but the goal of achieving universal access by 2010 will remain out of reach unless the pace of growth rises rapidly, according to a joint report from three United Nations agencies published today.

More than 2 million people living with HIV/AIDS in low- and middle-income countries received access to antiretroviral (ARV) therapy in December, a jump of 54 per cent on the figures from a year earlier, the report on HIV/AIDS interventions in the health sector said.

In sub-Saharan Africa, the region worst affected by HIV/AIDS, about 28 per cent of those in need were obtaining HIV treatment, compared to 2 per cent three years earlier. Progress was also being made in other regions, such as North Africa and the Middle East, Eastern Europe and Central Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean.

Dramatically lower prices for most first-line ARV drugs – some prices fell by more than 50 per cent – was partly responsible for the rising rates of access.

But the report from the World Health Organization (WHO), the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) found that despite these encouraging signs, only 28 per cent of the estimated 7.1 million people in low- or middle-income States were receiving treatment.

Calling the increased access “a positive step forward,” UNAIDS Executive Director Peter Piot nevertheless cautioned that “there is still a long way to go, particularly in the widespread provision of treatment to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV, which remains one of the simplest and cheapest proven prevention methods available.”

The number of children receiving treatment remains especially low, and UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman called them “the missing face of the AIDS pandemic.”

WHO’s HIV/AIDS Director Kevin De Cock added that improving access to injecting drug users – as well as children – must be an urgent priority in the global efforts against the scourge.

The report made a series of recommendations, including the acceleration of efforts to prevent, diagnose and treat HIV in children, a scaling up of services to prevent mother-to-child transmission, and the introduction of new strategies to boost knowledge of HIV status, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa.

Male circumcision is an important additional HIV prevention step, the report noted, urging countries to scale up access to safe circumcision services.

It also called for greater access for sufferers to quality treatment and preventive care for tuberculosis as almost 1 million people living with HIV/AIDS contract the disease each year.