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More Than 4 Million HIV-Positive People Receiving Life-Saving Treatment

  • Lisa Schlein

More Than 4 Million HIV-Positive People Receiving Life-Saving Treatment

More Than 4 Million HIV-Positive People Receiving Life-Saving Treatment

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The World Health Organization says more than four million HIV-positive people are receiving life-saving anti-retroviral treatment. A new report launched by WHO, UNAIDS and UNICEF finds the greatest progress is being made in sub-Saharan Africa, where two-thirds of all HIV infections occur.

The report says access to anti-retroviral therapy continues to expand at a rapid rate. Data show at the end of 2008, 36 percent more HIV-positive people were receiving treatment than in the previous year.

Director Ad Interim, HIV/AIDS Department at the World Health Organization, Teguest Guerma, notes this represents a tenfold increase over five years. Despite this progress, she says global coverage remains low.

She says only five-and-one-half-million of the nine-and-one-half-million people infected are getting the treatment they need.

"But, those who are getting treatment are also starting too late because of late diagnosis," she said. "People are coming to the health services when they are sick. And, this is having an impact on survival rate. People are dying during the first 12 months of treatment."

The report finds prices of the most commonly used anti-retroviral drugs have dropped significantly in recent years. And, this has boosted the number of people able to get treatment. Among the main beneficiaries are women and children.

Surveys show about 45 percent of HIV-positive pregnant women received anti-retroviral drugs to prevent HIV transmission to their children last year. This is up from 35 percent in 2007. In addition the number of children under age 15 receiving treatment also is rising.

UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibe says progress in Africa is particularly dramatic. He notes the number of HIV-positive people receiving anti-retroviral treatment in sub-Saharan Africa has risen from 50,000 a few years ago to nearly three-million today.

But, treatment without prevention, he believes, is like walking in place.

"We do not see any level off in this old fight against HIV," he said. "We still have 2.7 million new infections ... So, that means almost, if we compare to the one million we added last year to the treatment, it is almost one out of three. Anytime we are putting one person on treatment, new person on treatment, we have three new infections."

He says the number of people on treatment will never decline unless new infections are prevented from occurring.

The health agencies estimate they need $25 billion for 2010 to pay for a comprehensive package of HIV/AIDS-related activities. These include raising the number of people on treatment to seven million, promoting prevention programs and strengthening health care systems in developing countries.