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, Kevin De Cock, director of the World Health Organization's HIV/AIDS Department, and Michel Sidibe, deputy director of UNAIDS, said on Tuesday during a press conference in London.
The officials' comments follow the release of a report on Tuesday from UNAIDS, UNICEF and WHO that found 28% of people in developing countries who need antiretroviral drugs have access to them.
According to the report, the number of HIV-positive people in developing countries with access to antiretroviral therapy increased 54% to two million people in 2006. The report found that five million people remain without access to antiretrovirals and that 15% 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 De Cock, 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. The report called on governments to develop specific strategies aimed at successfully preventing and treating HIV/AIDS.
"A rebalancing of our perception of the epidemic and reinvigorating prevention is absolutely essential," De Cock said, adding, "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."
According to Sidibe, 40,000 people in Malawi began antiretroviral treatment last year, but the number of new cases in the country during the same time period was double that number. He added that it is necessary to "turn off the tap" of new HIV cases. Sidibe also raised questions about how long-term HIV/AIDS programs would be funded. Current funding levels total about $8 billion, Sidibe said, adding that this amount would have to increase to $23 billion by 2010 to fund prevention, care and treatment programs.
Individual countries also should take responsibility for HIV/AIDS treatment targets, De Cock said, adding that some African countries are not exhibiting adequate leadership on the issue.
According to the Times, more than 150 countries committed to establishing universal treatment access targets by the end of 2006 but only 90 submitted data on such targets by that date, the report says.
Source: Kaiser Family Foundation