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Global HIV therapy access tripled in past 2 years

Global HIV therapy access tripled in past two years but challenges remain: UN

Access to HIV treatment in low- and middle-income countries has more than tripled to 1.3 million people in the past two years with the greatest progress in those regions most heavily affected by the epidemic but this welcome progress still falls short of the ambitious United Nations target, the world body said today in a new report.

Charting the final progress of the “3 by 5” strategy, launched in 2003 to expand access to HIV therapy to 3 million people in the developing world, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) report also says that the lessons learned in the last two years provide a foundation for continuing global efforts to provide universal access to HIV treatment by 2010.

“Two years ago, political support and resources for the rapid scale-up of HIV treatment were very limited,” said WHO Director-General, Dr. Lee Jong-wook. “Today “3 by 5” has helped to mobilize political and financial commitment to achieving much broader access to treatment. This fundamental change in expectations is transforming our hopes of tackling not just HIV/AIDS, but other diseases as well.”

Countries in every region of the world made substantial gains during the “3 by 5” period in closing the gap between those in need of HIV antiretroviral treatment (ART) and those receiving it, WHO/UNAIDS said, adding that 18 developing countries had met the strategy’s target of providing treatment to at least half of those in need by the end of last year.

“Between 2003 and 2005, global expenditure on AIDS increased from $4.7 billion to an estimated $8.3 billion…During the same period, the price of first-line treatment decreased by between 37 per cent and 53 per cent, depending on the regimen used,” the report stated.

“Between end-2003 and 2005, HIV treatment access expanded in every region of the world. Sub-Saharan Africa and East, South and Southeast Asia, the regions most heavily affected by the epidemic, achieved the most rapid and sustained progress.”

However, despite the successes, the report also highlighted how the “3 by 5 strategy fell short of its ambitions.” Obstacles to scaling up HIV treatment and prevention included constraints on the procurement and supply of drugs, diagnostics and other commodities as well as strained human resources capacity and other “critical weaknesses” in health systems.

“Misinformation about the disease and stigma against people living with HIV still hamper prevention, care and treatment efforts everywhere,” said Dr. Peter Piot, UNAIDS Executive Director. “If we are to get ahead of the AIDS epidemic, we must tackle stigma, ensure that the available funds are spent effectively to scale-up HIV prevention, care and treatment programmes, and mobilize more resources.”

UNAIDS estimates that the gap between available resources and those needed is $18 billion for the period 2005-2007, and that at least $22 billion per year will be needed by 2008 to fund comprehensive national HIV prevention, treatment and care programmes.

The report highlights the lessons learned since 2003 in scaling up HIV treatment, including the need for more resources and sustainable financing, and notes that both UNAIDS and WHO are intensifying efforts to fight the global scourge of AIDS.

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