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WHO to Provide HIV/AIDS Treatment for 3 Million - 2003-09-24

The U.N. health agency has repeated a committment to provide three million people around the world living with AIDS and H-I-V with anti-retroviral treatment by the year 2005. Achieving such a goal could be a daunting task.

The director of HIV/AIDS program for the World Health Organization, Dr. Paulo Teixeira, told reporters the failure to provide anti-retroviral treatment to the millions of people who need it can be classified as a global health emergency.

"We made some progress until now on the areas of prevention and also some progress on the area of support to affected people, but it is quite clear that we are terribly late on the process of access to treatment," he said.

To that end, says Dr. Teixeira, the WHO will work with UNAIDS, governments, donors, community groups and other national and international partners to meet the three million target. He says the WHO came up with the figure of three million people based on studies of available human and financial resources.

Dr. Teixeira says the WHO will advise countries on how to simplify drug regimes, conduct laboratory and clinical tests, procure drugs, ensure quality control of generic products and offer other assistance.

The executive director of UNAIDS, Dr. Peter Piot, says the program's goals are to prolong the lives of those infected with HIV, prevent the infection of newborns by their parents and fight social prejudice against people living with HIV/AIDS.

"This will require unprecedented collaboration," said Dr. Piot. "It has never been tried before in such a short time to expand treatment to so many people. It is not impossible, but it will require resources in the sense of not only money, but the people and the institutional resources."

Dr. Piot says meeting the WHO target will cost $5 billion a year, not including investment in healthcare infrastructure.

He says this year alone about $4.7 billion will be spent on AIDS programs worldwide for prevention and treatment.

"It is particularly the treatment component that has to go up," he said. "So we are overall only halfway."

Dr. Piot said African governments have to boost their budgets for AIDS prevention and treatment programs, and wealthy countries must increase their donations.