Medicine is a critical weapon in the fight against AIDS/HIV, but it is only part the battle and properly trained personnel are vital to seeing the work through. The issue of training health workers came up at a meeting in Manila on intellectual property rights and public health.
The World Health Organization has a target of providing anti-retroviral drugs to three million people living with AIDS in developing countries by the end of this year. That is about half of the six million people with the disease who need immediate treatment.
By June about one million had been reached, but progress continues.
Karin Timmermans, a WHO technical officer specializing in Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific Region, says the worldwide program is speeding up as governments and organizations become more responsive.
"We still have a bit of time left and we still are accelerating," she said. "We don't think that we will make the three million to be honest but progress is being made and I think we should just continue to build on that and keep the momentum going."
Ms. Timmermans appeared at a conference on intellectual property rights and public health sponsored by the WHO and the Philippine government. She specializes in legal issues related to patented drugs and national policies. Poor countries often have a tough time obtaining expensive patented drugs for treating AIDS and other diseases, but Ms. Timmermans says that once such problems are addressed, they are pretty well fixed.
The new challenge is properly training health workers to carry out and sustain treatment programs, and ensuring reliable supply systems over the long term. The WHO estimates that 100,000 health workers must be trained to administer HIV/AIDS treatments.
"It's not the kind of treatment that you can take it for some time and you stop and then you start again," she said. "The medicine should be available continuously and in countries with weak supply systems, sometimes due to bad roads and hurricanes, etc, not necessarily through human faults. But all these other problems that can pose a big challenge."
Nursing care for HIV/AIDS victims is a bit more complicated than for many other health problems. Ms. Timmermans says normally patients take at least three different drugs at the same time, to avoid the problem of the virus developing resistance to any of the medications. In addition, she says, some of the laboratory tests for HIV/AIDS are more complicated than traditional laboratory work.
The WHO estimates that 30 million people have died from AIDS and 40 million more are infected with HIV, the virus that causes it. A victim can be infected for a long time before the disease emerges, and treatment centers on those already suffering from an outbreak. Sub-Saharan Africa is the worst hit with more than 28 million people infected. In Asia, the largest numbers of victims are in India, with more than five million living with HIV/AIDS, and China, where the WHO estimates around a million people are infected.