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Early Treatment for HIV Can Save Millions of Lives

  • Published in Health

 

Lisa Schlein


GENEVA — The World Health Organization says early treatment for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, can save millions of lives.

WHO is issuing new treatment guidelines for people infected with HIV as a major international AIDS Conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia gets under way.

The World Health Organization reports earlier antiretroviral therapy - ART - could avert an additional 3 million deaths and prevent 3.5 million more new HIV infections between now and 2025.

WHO says recent evidence indicates that treating people with HIV earlier, with safe, affordable and easier-to-manage medicines will help them live longer, healthier lives. Because the medication lowers the amount of virus in the blood, WHO says this will greatly reduce the risk of transmitting the HIV infection to others.

Use of lifesaving drugs on the rise

Coordinator of WHO’s HIV-AIDS Department, Gundo Weiler, says 9.7 million people were taking lifesaving antiretroviral drugs at the end of 2012, an amazing increase from the figure of 300,000 10 years ago. He says the increase in the use of ART drugs is making a huge impact on the lives of individuals and on the AIDS epidemic.

Weiler says, “Over the last decade, the scale-up of antiretroviral treatment in low and middle income countries has averted more than four million deaths-4.2 million deaths exactly-and also, it has averted more than 800,000 infections among children due to the prevention of mother and child transmission…Antiretroviral treatment is not only good for the health of the person who is taking the treatment, but it also reduces the likelihood of transmission. So, the scale-up of ART has an effect on the HIV epidemic together with all the other prevention efforts.”

WHO reports 32 million people are living with HIV and 1.7 million people died of AIDS-related causes in 2011. Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest burden of HIV. WHO notes treatment coverage has increased in every region of the world, with Africa leading the way. It says four of five people in sub-Saharan Africa started treatment in 2012.

While progress is being made, United Nations health officials are concerned that some groups of people who need treatment are not getting it. It notes fewer children than adults are receiving ART, with only one in three children receiving them.

They say other groups susceptible to getting the disease, including injecting drug users, men who have sex with men, and sex workers have less access to antiretroviral therapy. They say it is important to reach these people who are stigmatized and excluded from services.

WHO steps up recommendations

The new WHO recommendations call for antiretroviral therapy to be provided to all children with HIV under five years of age, to pregnant and breastfeeding women with HIV, as well as to all HIV-positive partners where one partner in the relationship is uninfected.

Director of WHO's HIV-AIDS Department, Gottfried Hirnschall, says people starting treatment today have a much easier regimen to follow than in the past.

“Ten years ago, there were many tablets several times a day," says Hirnschall. "People started late when they got sick when they started. We are now at a single tablet, once a day, early in the infection. That is the new paradigm shift. It will keep people alive, healthy, for long periods of time and it will also prevent that people can transmit the infection to their partners, to whoever they engage sexually or through other means.”

Hirnschall says the price of HIV drugs for developing countries has been drastically reduced to an average of $140 per person per year. The same drug in wealthy countries, he says can run to $10,000 or more a year.

The U.N. health agency recommends a more integrated approach in the treatment of HIV. It says HIV services should be more closely linked with other health services, such as those for tuberculosis, maternal and child health, sexual and reproductive health, and treatment for drug dependence.

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Despite progress, efforts must be redoubled to end HIV/AIDS epidemic – UN officials

  • Published in Health

 

UN, Despite the tremendous progress that has been achieved in the response to HIV/AIDS, it is urgent that efforts be redoubled to end this global epidemic, top United Nations officials stressed today, highlighting in particular the need to expand services and scale up resources. 

“Together we must act strategically and effectively to achieve the vision of a world with zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths,” the General Assembly President, Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, said in remarks to an Assembly meeting held to review progress following last year’s high-level meeting on HIV and AIDS.
In the remarks, delivered by Acting President and Ambassador of Benin Jean-Francis Zinsou, Mr. Al-Nasser said that the world is “riding a wave of renewed hope and accelerating progress against HIV.”
There have been dramatic reductions in new infections in the hardest-hit countries, and among young people worldwide, as well as a scaling up of treatments in low- and middle-income countries in the past decade, he noted.
“Yet, critical challenges remain,” the President added, stating that HIV still disproportionately affects vulnerable populations, and funding is in decline, threatening the ability of the world community to sustain necessary progress.
“We must ensure that the commitments that were made are implemented, so that we can re-direct the course of the epidemic, and avert future costs to society,” he said.
At last year’s high-level meeting, Member States adopted a political declaration committing themselves to ambitious new targets to combat HIV/ AIDS, with the aim of ridding the world of a disease that has claimed more than 30 million lives since the virus was first identified three decades ago.
Member States pledged to deliver antiretroviral therapy to 15 million people living with HIV; work towards eliminating new infections in children and substantially reducing maternal AIDS-related deaths; reduce by 50 per cent new infections from sexual transmission and among people who inject drugs; substantially increase HIV funding, with the goal of mobilizing $22 billion to $24 billion annually; meet the needs of women and girls; and eliminate stigma and discrimination.
“Today the international community has cause for hope and optimism in the response,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon wrote in his first report on the issues arising from that session – and issued in April this year – while also highlighting the many challenges that remain.
Substantial access gaps persist for key services, with especially difficult obstacles experienced by populations at higher risk, he noted. Punitive laws, gender inequality, violence against women and other human rights violations continue to undermine national responses. Of special concern is the first-ever decline in HIV funding in 2010, potentially jeopardizing the capacity of the international community to close access gaps and sustain progress in the coming years.
“Efforts must be refocused to achieve real results and end a global epidemic of historic proportions,” he wrote. “The response must be smarter and more strategic, streamlined, efficient and grounded in human rights.”
In his remarks to the Assembly meeting today, Mr. Ban emphasized the need to do more “to win the race,” stressing the need to cut the number of new HIV infections by one million by 2015, reach out to people at risk, focus on the special needs of women and children, combat discrimination, and strengthen funding for critical efforts.
“Last year marked the thirtieth anniversary of struggle against AIDS – but we were not looking back; we were looking to a future where all people get the prevention and treatment services they need,” he told Member States.

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