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Developing Countries Need to Strengthen HIV/AIDS Prevention Efforts; Access to Antiretroviral Treatment Not Sufficient

On April 17, 2007, the World Health Organization (WHO), the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), released Towards Universal Access: Scaling Up Priority HIV/AIDS Interventions In the Health Sector, a report that discusses the positives and negatives of HIV/AIDS-prevention and care programs in developing countries.  The report ultimately concludes that more efforts are needed to provide universal access to services.1  

According to the report, access to antiretroviral therapy for HIV infection in developing countries continued to grow throughout 2006, with more than two million people receiving treatment in December 2006.  This constitutes a 54% increase over the 1.3 million people who were receiving treatment in these countries one year earlier.2  However, this still falls short of the WHO aim of treating three million needy people with antiretroviral therapy by the end of 2005.  Currently, it is estimated that seven million more individuals could benefit from the drugs.3

Although the report acknowledges the increased access to treatment, it also details a number of key areas where services are insufficient.  In particular, the report states that HIV/AIDS-prevention efforts remain unsatisfactory.  During a press conference in London, Kevin De Cock, director of the WHO’s HIV/AIDS Department, and Michel Sidibe, deputy director of UNAIDS, said, “Governments and health workers should focus their efforts on strengthening HIV/AIDS prevention efforts because increased access to antiretroviral drugs will not overcome the pandemic.”4  Furthermore, De Cock said, “If there’s one big lesson, it’s that you cannot separate prevention from treatment.  If 700,000 people are accessing therapy every year, but every year we have over four million new infections, for every case that goes on to treatment, there’s six more getting to the back of the line who will require therapy.  We can’t treat our way out of this epidemic.”5

The report calls for prevention of mother-to-child transmission, one of the easiest ways to prevent HIV infection, to be a top priority in developing countries.  According to Dr. Peter Piot, executive director of UNAIDS, “…new data in the report also shows 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.”6

In order to achieve the United Nations Member States’ goal of “universal access to comprehensive prevention programmes, treatment, care and support” by 2010, the report outlines the following recommendations for improving global AIDS response:7

  1. Increase efforts to accelerate the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of HIV disease in children.
  2. Introduce a range of strategies to increase knowledge of HIV status.
  3. Accelerate scale-up of services to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV.
  4. Improve access to services for most-at-risk populations, including injecting drug users and men who have sex with men (MSM).
  5. Invest in prevention for people living with HIV/AIDS.
  6. Improve access for people living with HIV/AIDS to quality TB prevention, diagnostic, and treatment services.
  7. Recognize male circumcision as an important additional HIV-prevention intervention.
  8. Address concerns about longer-term financial sustainability.

The WHO, UNAIDS, and UNICEF report can be accessed at http://www.who.int/entity/hiv/mediacentre/univeral_access_progress_report_en.pdf.

References

  1. The World Health Organization (WHO), The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), “Significant growth in access to HIV treatment in 2006,” Press Release published 17 April 2007, accessed 19 April 2007, <http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2007/pr16/en/index.html>.
  2. Towards Universal Access: Scaling Up Priority HIV/AIDS Interventions In the Health Sector, Progress Report, April 2007 (Switzerland: the World Health Organization, UNAIDS, and UNICEF, 2007), 5.
  3. “HIV drugs still denied to many,” BBC News, 22 April 2007, accessed 23 April 2007, <http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/6564107.stm>.
  4. “Global Challenges: U.N. Officials Call on Countries to Strengthen HIV/AIDS Prevention Efforts,” Kaiser Daily Health Report, 18 April 2007, accessed 19 April 2007, <http://www.kaisernetwork.org/daily_reports/rep_index.cfm?DR_ID=44316>.
  5. Ibid.
  6. BBC News.
  7. Towards Universal Access.

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