The World Health Organization (WHO) says that though treatment coverage for HIV/AIDS has improved, the United Nations' long-term goal of universal coverage by 2010, is yet to be achieved.
Stating facts in its annual progress report, the WHO gave that by last year-end, 2 million people in low- and middle-income countries were receiving the anti-retroviral drugs that help treat HIV infection.
This equals an increase of 54 percent on the 1.3 million people treated the year before, meaning that about 28 percent of those in need, now receive the drugs. The report found that five million people remain without access to antiretrovirals and that 15 percent of the 780,000 children in need of antiretroviral drugs had access to treatment, by the end of last year.
The report also found that 380,000 children last year in developing countries died of AIDS-related illnesses, most of which were preventable.
According to Kevin De Cock, director of the World Health Organization's HIV/AIDS Department, although the number of people with treatment access is smaller than desired, those receiving treatment are benefiting. "If you visit these countries, go to clinics and go to people's houses, you see people going back to work," De Cock said, adding, "It is pretty impressive."
However, about six times as many people in 2006 contracted HIV than those who started antiretroviral treatment, meaning that prevention efforts are failing or nonexistent, according to De Cock.
"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", De Cock was quoted.
Says Dr. Charlie Gilks, the head of WHO's HIV treatment department: "The encouraging progress that was made ... has been sustained."
Various reasons attributed to this are the significant drop in the cost of drugs, caused by price competition between manufacturers of generic drugs, as well as negotiations by the government, NGOs, and drug makers to procure lower cost generic drugs for those in need.
Gilks gives credit to increased political commitment, including the U.S. President's Emergency Plan and the intergovernmental Global Fund.
"We have every reason to believe that this success will continue," Gilks added, Yet he has warned that greater effort would be needed if the U.N. was to reach its target of universal access in three years' time.
Latin America is said to lead the way with treatment available for 72 percent of those who need it, sub-Saharan Africa has also made significant progress and now provides the drugs to 28 percent of people who need them, an increase from only 2 percent in 2003.
The lowest access rate in poor countries is in the North Africa and Middle East region, where about 6 percent of people who need HIV drugs receive them.
According to Gilks, greater access to treatment for children, and better prevention of mother-to-child transmission, need to be tackled as well. Partly because of the difficulties in diagnosing HIV in infants, only 15 percent of them have access to drugs now.