The World Health Organization and Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS, known as UNAIDS, say they will miss their goal of treating three-million HIV/AIDS victims in poor countries by the end of this year.
A new report shows the number of people receiving combination anti-retroviral therapy for HIV/AIDS in developing countries is increasing significantly. It notes the numbers have more than doubled from 400,000 in December 2003 to about one million now.
But the Director of HIV/AIDS at the World Health Organization, Jim Yong Kim, says while getting one-million people on treatment programs during the past two years is significant progress, a more ambitious goal was not met.
"We had hoped to be higher," Dr. Kim said. " We hoped to have been at 1.6. So, we are clearly disappointed. But, we are disappointed because we were not able to save more lives. There are 600,000 that we would have liked to have on treatment that are not. This rate of progress, while extremely encouraging in every way, will not get us, we do not feel, to three million by the end of 2005."
Dr. Kim says the number of people receiving drug therapy in sub-Saharan Africa, the region most severely affected by HIV, has more than tripled in the last year. He says approximately one-half million AIDS victims in Africa are receiving this life saving therapy.
Similarly, in Asia, the second most affected region, he says the number of patients receiving treatment has tripled to more than 155,000.
The name of the program, "3 by 5", is the global target to get three million people living with HIV/AIDS in low and middle-income countries on anti-retroviral treatment by the end of 2005. This is approximately half the number of people who have full-blown AIDS. WHO says its ultimate goal is to provide universal access to prevention and treatment programs for all 6.5 million sufferers.
Dr. Kim says there are several key steps that must be taken to scale-up treatment programs. He says poor countries must be given technical assistance to help strengthen their health and social systems. He says training people to administer the treatment to AIDS patients also is critical.
In this regard, he says he learned from the Health Minister of Mozambique that providing treatment was not as complicated as he had thought.
"And, that they now understand that clinical officers or community health workers along with nurses can both initiate and sustain treatment for the vast majority of patients," Dr. Kim says. "So, they are now training recent high school graduates, among whom they have a terrible employment problem, to become the new health workers who are going to sustain anti-retroviral therapy. This level of innovation and creativity in terms of managing a program is extremely encouraging."
WHO and UNAIDS call prevention key to successful treatment. They say it will not be possible to sustain increasing numbers of people on chronic therapy without reducing the incidence of new infections.