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WHO Works to Coordinate Access to AIDS Drugs for Developing Countries - 2002-12-12


The World Health Organization is assembling an international coalition to provide drugs to millions of HIV-AIDS victims. The coalition brings major donors and governments together with private agencies to fight HIV-AIDS.

AIDS is no longer the almost automatic death sentence that it once was. However, in the developing world, where the new retroviral drugs that have been so effective in fighting the disease are not widely available, AIDS remains just about as deadly as ever. The World Health Organization estimates about three million people will die of AIDS this year, and 99 percent of these deaths will be in developing countries.

The organization calculates that only 300,000 people, or five percent, of people living with HIV-AIDS, are getting the treatment they need. The agency calls this unacceptable and says the new coalition will try to turn this situation around.

The director of the World Health Organization's HIV-AIDS department, Bernard Schwartlander, says one recurring myth is that giving treatment to people in poor countries is not feasible because there are not enough doctors or systems in place to ensure people take the drugs.

"We now have overwhelming evidence from an increasing number of small projects that this is not true," said Dr. Schwartlander. "One, you can very effectively deliver drugs in all these circumstances. Secondly, people adhere to the treatments because, like everywhere else in the world, if people are sick, if their families suffer from a very heavy burden of having to care for people, they do take the drugs. They listen, they learn."

Dr. Schwartlander said small-scale pilot projects in Latin America, Africa and Asia show that drug therapy can be very successful even in very poor areas when communities get involved in treatment programs. He said the challenge ahead is to expand these programs so that thousands of people can be treated.

Fezeka Kuzwayo is a community worker from Kwazulu Natal in South Africa. She also has HIV-AIDS. She said the coalition is important for her because she is tired of having big organizations telling her and others like her what they can or cannot do.

"For me this coalition is about making sure that there are not any more orphans, like the five that I have to look after because their father died because he could not get antiretrovirals," said Ms. Kuzwayo. "And, it is making sure as well that I am alive because now that their father has died, that this person who has taken upon herself to look after them does not drop dead the next day... For me it is about making sure that these antiretrovirals come to my village."

The price for a year's treatment for HIV has fallen in recent years from $10,000 (US) per person to less than $300. But this price is still too high for people in poorer countries.

The World Health Organization says governments have to move away from viewing HIV treatment as a burden to the national health budget. Instead, it says they should view it as an important investment in the future of the country.

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