The World Health Organization says it is planning to provide low-cost anti-AIDS drugs to three million victims of the disease in developing countries by the end of 2005. The agency says most of the drug treatment will go to help people in Africa, the continent most severely affected by HIV/AIDS.

The head of WHO's new initiative on HIV treatment, Dr. Charlie Gilks, says, in sub-Saharan Africa, where most of the people in need of treatment live, only 50,000 are receiving it.

"Sub-Saharan Africa constitutes at least two-thirds of the global AIDS burden," he said. "And approximately one percent only of those in need in sub-Saharan Africa are receiving treatment. So, clearly, Africa is the most proximate region for us to work in where the treatment gap is the most severe."

Dr. Gilks says WHO has a provisional list of about 34 countries where immediate action is needed. There are 24 of these countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

He says it will cost about $100 million a year to provide low-cost drugs to three million AIDS victims.

Among other things, the money will be used to assist countries in purchasing and financing medicines, in training thousands of health workers to deliver the treatment and in helping developing countries to strengthen their health services.

Dr. Gilks says WHO has declared the lack of anti-retroviral treatment for millions of AIDS sufferers a global health emergency.

"We hope that by declaring a global emergency that people will view this immoral and inexcusable treatment gap, a lack of speed of filling it, as an emergency which requires new and peculiar [specific] responses," he said.

The World Health Organization says it plans to publish a comprehensive global strategy for providing anti-AIDS drugs to three million people by World AIDS Day, December 1.

But Dr. Gilks says WHO hopes to have emergency teams working in 10 countries even before then.