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Top Officials: Progress Being Made to Get Drugs for AIDS Victims

Top officials leading the worldwide fight against AIDS say there has been immense progress in the past year in getting treatment to those who are infected with the AIDS virus.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says over the past year there has been a 75 percent increase in the number of people receiving antiretroviral treatment. WHO Director General, Dr. Lee Jong-wook, says the effort is on track to meet the goal of having three million people under treatment by the end of this year. Dr. Lee says there has been particular progress in Sub-Saharan Africa.

"In the last six months the number of people on treatment in Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia have doubled,” said Mr. Lee. “And in Latin America they have continued to improve. National determination is making it happen. In Sub-Saharan Africa, Botswana, Namibia and Uganda have achieved 25% coverage."

Dr. Lee says progress has lagged in South Africa, Nigeria and India. However, Dr. Richard Feachem, the head of the Global Fund to fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, says South Africa is now moving faster in getting treatment to those infected.

"Countries only make progress when there is very strong political leadership for the fight against HIV-AIDS and for the frank talking about HIV-AIDS, which is necessary to prevent and reduce stigma,” Mr. Feachem added. “I think what we see in South Africa is a great improvement in political leadership."

Randall Tobias, who heads President Bush's AIDS initiative, says much of the progress stems from the 90 percent drop in the cost of antiretroviral drugs.

"We now estimate that the cost of treating a single individual, depending on the circumstances the infrastructure and so forth, is somewhere between $1500 and $2500 per year,” said Mr. Tobias. “Of that, the cost of drugs is somewhere between $300 and $500. So as you can see the cost of drugs as a percentage cost of treatment has dropped."

All three officials credit the big pharmaceutical companies with being a positive force in reducing the cost of AIDS treatment. While experts concede that much more needs to be done, this scale of progress could not have been imagined only three years ago. Then only a few tens of thousands were receiving treatment. Today 700,000 are. And by the end year, they predict, three million will be receiving antiretroviral treatment.