WHO says few pregnant women getting HIV drugs

Nearly 2,000 babies are born with HIV infection each day because their mothers do not get the treatment needed to stop transmission of the virus, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Tuesday.

The WHO said fewer than 10 percent of HIV-positive women in developing countries got antiretroviral therapy during pregnancy and childbirth between 2003 and 2005, despite a tripling of overall access to the drugs in that period.

“Each year over 570,000 children under the age of 15 die of AIDS, most having acquired HIV from their mothers,” the U.N. health agency said in a report showing it missed its “3 by 5” goal of getting 3 million people on antiretrovirals by 2005.

By the end of last year, only 1.3 million poor people infected with the lethal virus were taking the life-saving drugs - less than half the number targeted by the WHO two years ago and just one fifth of the 6.5 million people needing treatment.

Some 660,000 children - mostly in sub-Saharan Africa, the region most affected by HIV and AIDS - were in immediate need of antiretroviral therapy in 2005, said the report, released jointly with sister U.N. agency UNAIDS.

Dr. Kevin de Cock, WHO director for HIV/AIDS, said children account for 15 percent of global AIDS deaths, but make up only about 5 percent of those receiving treatment.

Frail health systems in impoverished regions were partly to blame for the missed “3 by 5” target, he said.

FORMIDABLE OBSTACLES

“Sub-Saharan Africa is short at least 1 million health care workers, and this is probably one of the most formidable obstacles for the future,” he told reporters, adding that hospitals, labs and other infrastructure are also lacking.

Other factors in the way of the 3 million-person treatment goal include weak partnerships among aid providers, inadequate drug supplies and a funding shortfall, the report said.

Worldwide AIDS expenditures nearly doubled to $8.3 billion between 2003 and 2005, with most funds coming from the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and the World Bank.

Still, UNAIDS estimates there remains a $18 billion gap between available and needed funds for the 2005 to 2007 period.

By 2008, it said at least $22 billion per year - nearly three times the current funding level - will be required to pay for national HIV prevention, treatment and care programmes.

If financing levels aren’t increased dramatically, UNAIDS said antiretroviral treatment will likely remain limited for vulnerable groups like pregnant women and children.

About 50,000 new patients began antiretroviral therapy each month in the past year, the report said, estimating that 250,000 to 350,000 premature deaths have been averted in developing countries as a result of expanded treatment access.

The price of first-line treatment meanwhile fell by between 37 percent and 53 percent depending on the drug regimen used, making an extension of services more feasible, the report said.

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Revision date: June 22, 2011
Last revised: by Amalia K. Gagarina, M.S., R.D.