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WHO Says More AIDS Victims Getting Treatment - 2004-07-09

The World Health Organization says significant progress has been made in providing free treatment to hundreds of thousands of AIDS victims in developing countries. The agency says it is on course to meet its goal of providing free anti-retroviral drugs to three million people by the end of next year.

The World Health Organization says more AIDS victims in Africa, Asia, South America and Eastern Europe now have greater hope of living longer than they did a year ago.

An advisor to WHO's director-general, Ian Smith, says more people are receiving free anti-retroviral drugs since the organization launched its anti-AIDS strategy six months ago.

"About twice as many, in fact, than were on treatment two years ago, at the time of the Barcelona AIDS conference, when, at that time, approximately 230,000 were on treatment," he said. "Now, we estimate about 440,000 people are on treatment with anti-retroviral drugs. Clearly, there has been progress. And, we can confidently say that getting three million people on treatment by the end of 2005 is a realistic, and is an achievable target on the way towards the goal of universal access to treatment."

Dr. Smith says 56 countries have asked the World Health Organization to help them expand access to treatment. Currently, he says, WHO is focusing on 49 countries, which represent 86 percent of global treatment needs.

He also says WHO is in the process of increasing its programs. Dr. Smith says WHO will need $200 million to help developing countries implement treatment and care programs for AIDS victims over the next 18 months.

But, he says, the total amount of money needed to provide free drugs for three million people will come to $5.5 billion. Dr. Smith says the bulk of that money will come from a special United States AIDS program, the World Bank and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

He says Burundi is an example of a country that has expanded its AIDS treatment program, since it began collaborating with WHO. Previously, he says, Burundi's treatment for AIDS patients was fragmented. Now, the government has pledged to provide free drugs to all who need it. And several public hospitals already have begun dispensing ART, or anti-retroviral treatment, to people.

"We estimate that, between February and May, about 1,000 patients were receiving ART [anti-retroviral treatment], still obviously a long way to go," said Ian Smith. "There will be about 12,500 people who need treatment in Burundi. But, it demonstrates that, with collaboration, with the support of partners, it is possible to scale up treatment in a country. Even in a country such as Burundi, which, as we all know, has been facing civil war and many other difficulties internally."

The World Health Organization says the three million beneficiaries comprise only about half of the people in the world who need anti-AIDS treatment. It says it hopes to extend its free drugs program beyond 2005 to reach the three million other AIDS victims who also need help.