More than 1 million in Africa get HIV drugs: WHO

Ten times more people in Africa are getting life-saving AIDS drugs than just three years ago, but still most get no treatment and the pandemic continues to spread, the World Health Organization reported on Wednesday.

A total of 1.04 million people in sun-Saharan Africa get the antiretroviral drugs that prevent pregnant women from passing the virus on to their babies, and help many people with the virus live normal lives.

“We have reached just one-quarter of the people in need in low- and middle-income countries, and the number of those who need treatment will continue to grow. Our efforts to overcome the obstacles to treatment access must grow even faster,” WHO HIV/AIDS Director Dr. Kevin De Cock told the 16th International AIDS Conference.

The obstacles include a lack of funding, not enough cooperation from countries involved and physically finding the people with AIDS.

The virus infects nearly 39 million people globally, and the fatal and incurable virus has killed 25 million people since it was identified 25 years ago. Virtually all - 95 percent - of people infected with the virus live in the developing world.

There is no vaccine. More than 20 different drugs are available to help people with AIDS live relatively normal lives.

And efforts by WHO, the U.S. government, Medecins Sans Frontieres, former U.S. president Bill Clinton’s foundation, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria and others have driven down the costs of the drugs and provided generic versions for poor countries.

New formulations mean that patients no longer have to take a dozen pills a day at precise times. Many are combined into single pills that can be taken twice or even once a day.

All this means more people are getting the drugs, known as antiretroviral therapy.

“In low- and middle-income countries, just over 1.6 million persons were receiving antiretroviral therapy at the end of June 2006, a 24 percent increase over the 1.3 million who had access to the drugs in December 2005, and four times the 400,000 people receiving treatment in these countries in December 2003,” De Cock said.

About 6.8 million people living in low- and middle-income countries need the drugs, which usually are not prescribed until the virus starts to affect the immune system significantly.

So about 24 percent of those who need them are getting them.

CHILDREN GO UNPROTECTED AND UNTREATED

Children are especially poorly served, with pediatric formulations of HIV drugs still costing far more than adult versions.

“An estimated 800,000 children below the age of 15 require antiretroviral therapy, the vast majority in Africa,” De Cock said. Only about 60,000 to 100,000 receive it.

“We must conclude that scale-up has so far left children behind,” De Cock said.

He said fewer than 10 percent of HIV-infected pregnant women in low and middle income countries get the pills that can protect their newborns from the virus.

In contrast, WHO said, pediatric HIV disease has been virtually eliminated in the industrialized world.

And in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, more than 70 percent of those with HIV are injecting drug users but only about a quarter of them are getting treated.

The report details the numbers of people getting HIV drugs by region:

- 1.04 million people in sun-Saharan Africa

- 345,000 in Latin America and the Caribbean

- 235,000 in Asia

- 24,000 in Europe and Central Asia

- 4,000 in North Africa and the Middle East.

Provided by ArmMed Media
Revision date: June 18, 2011
Last revised: by Janet A. Staessen, MD, PhD