The World Health Organization is describing the failure to deliver AIDS medicines to those who need them as a global health emergency. WHO officials declared the emergency at the United Nations, where the General Assembly is devoting a day-long session to the AIDS pandemic.
WHO's Director General, Dr. Lee Jong-wook said medicines to treat people infected with the AIDS virus are available for less than a dollar a day. But he told reporters on Monday that these so-called anti-retroviral, or ARV, treatments are not reaching millions of people who need them in the developing world.
Dr. Lee said urgent changes are needed in the way AIDS treatments are administered. "Business as usual will not work," he said. "And business as usual means watching thousands of people die every single day. To be exact, 8,000 people a day. To tackle the AIDS treatment emergency we must take emergency measures."
Dr. Lee said only about 300,000 of the nearly six million HIV-infected people in the developing world who need the anti-retroviral treatment have access to it. He said WHO remains committed to the U.N. Millennium Goal, known as the three-by-five plan, reaching three million of those infected people by 2005.
Dr. Peter Piot, executive director of the UNAIDS campaign, said that, with affordable drugs available, it is morally unacceptable that in the hardest hit area of Africa, 99 percent of people living with HIV have no access to treatment. He says new thinking is needed to break the treatment bottleneck, to avoid what he said is becoming the greatest disaster in recorded human history.
"We've spent the first two decades of this pandemic, or the first two known decades of this pandemic, sitting on our hands collectively, and doing very little to combat it," said Dr. Piot. "But we're poised to launch the large-scale counter-attack against the pandemic."
United Nations figures indicate 28 million people worldwide have died of AIDS. Three million of those deaths came in 2001, the last full year for which statistics are available. The WHO estimates 42 million more people are currently infected with HIV.
Total global spending for AIDS - from all sources - is estimated to be about $4 billion this year.