WHO: Number of people on HIV drugs still falling short of U.N. target

Thursday, January 27th 2005, 7:11 am
By: News On 6

GENEVA (AP) _ The number of people on HIV/AIDS drugs in the developing world almost doubled during 2004, but still falls far short of a U.N. target to have 3 million people on treatment by the end of this year, the World Health Organization said.

``Although the level of commitment is encouraging, it must accelerate in 2005,'' the U.N. health agency said Wednesday in a 64-page progress report on its efforts to boost HIV/AIDS treatment.

At least another 2.3 million people need to start treatment if the target is to be reached, WHO said. About 5.1 million adults around the world _ 72 percent of them in sub-Saharan Africa alone _ require treatment and but are not receiving it.

At least $2 billion will be needed in additional funding from governments and other sources to achieve that objective, WHO said.

``Many countries need to accelerate their scale up (of treatment), money is short and international organizations need to become much faster in assisting countries,'' the report noted.

``Clearly, Nigeria, South Africa and India need to do much more to help their own people,'' said Dr. Paul Zeitz, head of the Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group Global AIDS Alliance. ``Donor governments must also do more.

``No one has any explanation about where the missing US$2 billion will come from, and that is deeply troubling.''

About 40 million people worldwide are infected with the AIDS virus, and 5 million new cases are recorded every year. Sub-Saharan Africa is worst hit, but the epidemic is now pushing deep into Asia.

By the end of 2004, about 700,000 people in developing countries were taking antiretroviral medicines for the treatment of HIV/AIDS, WHO said.

The number of people in sub-Saharan Africa taking antiretrovirals more than doubled during the last six months of 2004, to 310,000. Parts of Asia also recorded a similar increase in treatment during that period, with Thailand starting 3,000 people on the drugs every month.

But progress has been much slower in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, North Africa and the Mideast, the report said.

Nevertheless, WHO said efforts by international organizations, including the United Nations and the World Bank, had ``played a critical role in making scale-up possible.''

The health agency also praised a U.S. initiative announced last year to help provide cheaper drugs to sufferers in Africa and the Caribbean. The U.S. administration had previously been in favor of stringent controls for foreign companies which manufacture low-cost generic versions of patented anti-HIV drugs.

``Over the past 12 months, a strong international movement has gathered,'' the report said.