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WHO to Launch HIV-AIDS Drug Program

The World Health Organization says it soon will launch a program to help developing countries get the drugs they need to treat millions of people infected with HIV-AIDS. The WHO aims to have at least three million AIDS sufferers under treatment by 2005, most of them in Africa.

The World Health Organization says it has been planning its new drug treatment strategy since August. It plans to launch the program on December 1, which is World AIDS Day.

The Head of WHO's AIDS Program, Paulo Teixeira, says, on that day, the organization will also release simplified guidelines for one of the most sought after AIDS treatments, anti-retroviral drugs, known as ARV.

"We will release the recommendations about how to initiate immediately the projects on ARV treatment in poor settings and difficult contexts and situations," he said. "And, we will present and make available a series of activities to be used immediately by countries."

Dr. Teixeira says WHO has already received requests for assistance from 20 countries. He says Kenya will be the first country where the new project will be launched. He says most of the participating countries are in Africa, but treatment projects also will begin shortly in several countries in Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe.

The World Health Organization reports more than 20 million people have already died of AIDS, and at least 42 million more are infected. Sub-Saharan Africa is the hardest hit area, with 28.5 million people living with HIV-AIDS.

The United Nations estimates five to six million people in developing countries are in immediate need of treatment, but fewer than 300,000 are receiving the drugs they need to keep them alive.

Dr. Teixeira says WHO will need $200 million over the next two years to reach its goal of getting drugs to three million HIV-AIDS sufferers in poor countries. The agency is working with the Global Fund for AIDS, run by the World Bank, and with the U.S. government, which has pledged $15 billion to fight AIDS over the next five years, as well as other donors and humanitarian groups.

He acknowledges delivering the treatment in poor countries will be difficult. But, he notes treatment programs run by private agencies in countries such as Brazil, Haiti, South Africa and India show that it can be done.

"We can, in very poor conditions, provide treatment, even where we do not have the so-called necessary infrastructure," said Paulo Teixeira. "If we mobilize all the local players, if we mobilize the community, if you simplify treatments, even uneducated people, very poor people living in very poor areas, can be as adherent to treatment as people in developed countries."

As part of its strategy, WHO will provide what it calls Emergency Response Teams to initiate projects in countries where treatment is most urgent. The agency will also help governments buy good quality drugs at low prices. It plans to monitor treatment and train health care professionals to deliver anti-retroviral treatment in a simplified, efficient way.