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WHO Urges Antiretroviral Treatment for All With HIV

FILE - Ruth Munyao, a pharmacist, dispenses antiretroviral (ARV) drugs at the Mater Hospital in Kenya's capital Nairobi, Sept. 10, 2015.

The World Health Organization is marking World AIDS Day on Tuesday by emphasizing the need to expand antiretroviral therapy to all those living with HIV.

The U.N. health agency says about 16 million of the 37 million people living with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, are currently taking the combination of drugs and that universal use is the way to end the AIDS epidemic within a generation.

It cited studies that show people who start the treatment shortly after acquiring the virus are less likely to transmit it to others while staying healthier themselves.

As a result, the WHO is calling for more testing so that people know their HIV status and earlier treatments for those who test positive. It says universal antiretroviral treatment could prevent 21 million AIDS-related deaths and 28 million new infections by 2030.

"The sense of urgency that was the norm during the disease's most destructive years must not be allowed to abate," said WHO Assistant Director Dr. Winnie Mpanju-Shumbusho. "HIV remains a major health challenge drawing sharp attention to health system weaknesses and gaps in universal health coverage."

The United States is also announcing a new plan Tuesday focusing on expanded testing, universal antiretroviral treatment to those with HIV, giving the drugs to those at substantial risk of acquiring HIV, and eliminated stigma and discrimination against those with HIV.

Of the 37 million people with the virus, 26 million live in sub-Saharan Africa, which accounts for 70 percent of new HIV infections. The WHO says just more than half of people know their HIV status.

World AIDS Day has been held on December 1 every year since 1988 as an occasion to show support for those living with HIV/AIDS, remember those who have died and focus on fighting the epidemic.