AIDS Drugs Reaching More People in Developing World, U.N. Says
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
UNITED NATIONS, June 9 -- About 3 million people infected with the AIDS virus in the developing world received life-prolonging antiretroviral drugs last year, a 42 percent increase over 2006 in the number with access to the medicines, a U.N. report said Monday.
But U.N. officials cautioned that 70 percent of AIDS victims still have no access to the medicines and that the number of newly infected people worldwide in 2007 was still 2.5 times the number receiving treatment. HIV/AIDS remains the leading cause of death in sub-Saharan Africa.
The new figures were in a report released by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on the eve of a high-level meeting at U.N. headquarters to review progress in the international fight against AIDS. The meeting on Tuesday and Wednesday will be attended by eight presidents and more than 90 prime ministers, foreign ministers and health ministers.
The growing availability of AIDS treatment for the world's poor marks an important breakthrough in addressing the epidemic, the report said. Five years ago, only about 200,000 people in developing countries could get the drugs -- the vast majority of them in Brazil. Although the multiple-drug regimens have dropped dramatically in price, they remain out of reach for many.
"Since 2006, progress in response to HIV is evident in many regions," the 27-page report stated. "However, progress is uneven, and the expansion of the epidemic itself is often outstripping the pace at which services are being brought to scale."
At a time when overall foreign assistance to the developing world has been shrinking, funding for HIV-related activities has grown tenfold over the past decade, reaching $10 billion in 2007. U.N. officials said the new figures showed that the investment has paid off.
The number of AIDS-related deaths decreased from 3.9 million in 2001 to 2.1 million in 2007, and the number of newly infected people decreased from 3.2 million in 1998 to 2.5 million in 2007. Still, "the breadth and severity of the epidemic remain unmatched in modern times by any other infectious diseases," the report said.
The number of AIDS cases is still rising in some countries, including China, Russia, Indonesia and Ukraine. Peter Piot, executive director of UNAIDS, the U.N. agency created in response to the epidemic, said the increase in AIDS infections in China has been fueled in part by mass movements of temporary laborers, by an increase in disposable income in the hands of male workers and by a rise in socioeconomic inequality, which has driven some poor women into prostitution. He also cited an increase in men having sex with other men.
The report found that access to AIDS treatment was uneven. Availability has soared in several countries in Asia and Africa. Sixty percent of AIDS patients in Rwanda had access to antiretroviral drugs last year -- up from 1 percent in 2003 -- as did 88 percent of Namibians with AIDS. The number of people getting treatment in Thailand and Vietnam increased more than tenfold during the same period.
But some of the nations hit hardest in Africa -- including Lesotho, South Africa and Swaziland -- have seen little improvement in the rate of new infections. Nearly 26 percent of adults 15 to 49 years of age in Swaziland are living with HIV/AIDS.
Even Uganda, one of the first African countries to see a reduction in AIDS infection rates, is showing renewed signs of trouble. "Recent surveys have revealed increases in risk behaviors and a decline in knowledge about HIV among young people" there, the U.N. report said.
"Serious challenges remain," Ban said. "In several countries, prevalence is rising among young people as well as women and girls. Five million Africans still need treatment."