September 30, 2009

World’s AIDS Population Lacks Access To Necessary Drugs

A United Nations report released on Wednesday showed that more than half of the 9.5 million people who need AIDS drugs cannot get them and 33 million people across the world are still infected with the virus that causes it, Reuters reported.

The report said that access to drugs, counseling and testing for AIDS has increased, but there were still 2.7 million new infections in 2007 and the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that causes AIDS remains a major challenge for global health.

However, there has been some progress, particularly in access to HIV testing and counseling as well as getting HIV drugs to pregnant women and those in low- and middle-income countries, according to Teguest Guerma, an AIDS director at the Geneva-based World Health Organization.

But Guerma warned that an internationally agreed goal of achieving universal access to treatment by 2010 was unlikely to be hit and required more concentrated effort.

"We're moving toward universal access, but we're not there yet. We need to sustain the effort and commitment we have now to move forward," she said.

Over 25 million people have died from AIDS since it became a pandemic in the early 1980s. While a cocktail of drugs known as highly active antiretroviral therapy can help keep it under control, there is still no cure.

High risk infection groups, including men who have sex with men, sex workers, drug users and prisoners, still have limited access to HIV testing and counseling services, according to the UNAIDS report.

Therefore, only 40 percent of all people estimated to have AIDS are aware that they are infected.

One encouraging sign is that drug treatment in low- and middle-income countries, where more than 4 million people were receiving drugs by the end of 2008, is now up from around 3 million last year.

Sub-Saharan Africa, where around two-thirds of HIV infections occur, showed the greatest gains. In 2008, some 2.9 million people there received treatment, compared with about 2.1 million in 2007.

Better access to tests and drugs also benefited pregnant women, who can transmit the AIDS virus to their children. Some 21 percent of pregnant women in low- and middle-income countries had an HIV test in 2008, up from 15 percent in 2007, and 45 percent of pregnant women with HIV got medicines, UNAIDS reported.

Governments, companies and non-profit groups have been struggling to create a vaccine against the virus that causes AIDS, as most experts agree a vaccine is the only way to stop its spread.

Last week, an experimental AIDS vaccine was shown in testing trials to protect people from the virus, but it only lowered the infection rate by 30 percent.

Guerma said they need to continue the research because there is hope for the discovery of a vaccine, but for the time being, a vaccine with a modest efficacy cannot be used by itself.

"We really need to do something about preventing HIV because there are more people getting infected every year than there are being put on treatment," said David Ross, an AIDS expert at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.


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