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Nearly 3 Million AIDS Sufferers Receiving Treatment

A new report finds nearly three million HIV-positive people in low and middle-income countries now are receiving life-saving anti-retroviral treatment. While praising this accomplishment, the World Health Organization says millions of people still lack access to prevention and treatment. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from WHO headquarters in Geneva.

The World Health Organization calls this treatment for AIDS victims a remarkable achievement. But, says too many HIV-positive people still do not receive the drugs they need to remain alive.

The report shows that last year nearly one-third of people infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, are receiving treatment. But, that leaves 6.7 million HIV-sufferers who are not.

In addition to this, WHO Director-General, Margaret Chan, says the disease is not static. New cases of HIV keep occurring. She says much more attention must be paid to prevention in order to keep ahead of this unforgiving epidemic.

"For every two persons we manage to get to, to provide them with ART [anti-retroviral treatment], another five persons get infected," said Chan. "So, if we do not concentrate on prevention, it is very difficult to play the catching-up game, even let alone going ahead of it. So, again, we cannot underestimate the power of prevention."

The report notes almost three quarters of people receiving drugs for HIV are in Africa, where the epidemic is disproportionately severe. WHO reports women account for half of all people living with HIV worldwide and nearly 60 percent of HIV infections in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Associate Director of the Geneva Office of UNICEF, Pascal Villeneuve, says the prevention of mother-to-child transmission has improved. But, he says too many infants continue to be infected because far too many women learn they have the virus only when pregnant or during delivery.

"Over 400,000 children were newly infected in 2007. Without care and treatment, about one-third of these children will die in their first year of life and almost half by the second. The number of children receiving anti-retroviral treatment increased from 75,000 in 2005 to nearly 200,000 in 2007, a 2.6 fold increase. However, many children living with HIV are still not receiving treatment and mortality among them remains unacceptably high."

WHO says it believes universal access to anti-retroviral treatment is achievable if certain obstacles can be overcome. It notes tuberculosis is a leading cause of death among HIV infected people around the world, and the number one cause of death among those living in Africa.

It says people are dying because they are unable to either prevent TB or get the life-saving medication they need for both TB and HIV.

The report's authors also warn access to treatment is likely to be slowed because of weak health systems in the worst-affected countries and the difficulty of training and retaining health-care workers.