UN Urges To Focus On The Basics To Prevent HIV Spread

by VR Sreeraman on Nov 29 2008 3:02 PM

The United Nations on Friday urged countries to focus on the roots of the AIDS epidemic and draw on a panoply of tried-and-tested tools to help prevent HIV spreading among groups of people who most at risk.

"There is no single magic bullet for HIV prevention, but we can choose wisely from the known prevention options available so that they can reinforce and complement each other," said Peter Piot, the outgoing executive director of UNAIDS.

Launching a report ahead of World AIDS Day on December 1, Piot called for understanding how the most recent HIV infections were happening and why they occurred in the first place.

"Not only will this approach help prevent the next 1,000 infections in each community, but it will also make money for AIDS work more effectively and help put forward a long term and sustainable AIDS response," he said.

Unlike previous years, UNAIDS did not give any fresh figures for the number of infections and deaths ahead of World AIDS Day, saying the relevant data had not yet been amassed.

Statistics published ahead of the International AIDS Conference in Mexico City in August say that around 33 million people had the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in 2007, in a range of 30.3 to 36.1 million.

Around 2.7 million people became infected, or on average around 7,500 people per day, while deaths were estimated at around two million.

Speaking at a press briefing, UNAIDS' director of evidence, monitoring and policy, Paul De Lay, said that so-called "combination prevention" -- which involves a behavioural, biomedical and structural approach to treatment -- was key to tackling the epidemic.

A biomedical approach could include male circumcision, or using anti-retrovirals to prevent mother-to-child transmission, while behavioural approach could include encouraging condom use or reducing the number of sexual partners.

"The epidemic is constantly changing, and therefore the analyses of new infections must be undertaken at regular intervals," he said.

Attention had to remain focussed on the most high-risk communities such as sex workers, injecting drug users and gay men, De Lay said.

Meanwhile, two leading organisations shone the spotlight on access to antiretroviral drugs, which can turn HIV from a death sentence to a manageable disease.

The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria on Friday announced that two million people living with HIV had now been reached with the lifeline treatment through programmes it supports, an increase of 43 percent increase over a year ago.

The Global Fund provides nearly a quarter of all international resources to fight AIDS.

In another development, the International AIDS Society (IAS), which organises the big international conferences, called on the Group of Eight (G8) to stand by their pledge, set down at their Gleneagles summit in 2005, for universal access to antiretroviral drugs by 2010.

"Based on the G8's own reporting at its July 2008 meeting in Hokkaido, Japan the IAS has calculated that G8 countries have, to date, pledged approximately 22.2 billion specifically for global HIV programmes between 2008 and 2010," the IAS said.

"This amount is just 36 percent of the UNAIDS-estimated 61 billion dollars that is needed over this period."

At the end of 2007, some three million people had access to antiretrovirals, marking a major upturn in previous years, but this was still two-thirds short of a goal of universal access of 2010 enshrined by the UN and supported by the G8.