The World Health Organization will fail to meet its target of having three million people on free HIV/AIDS treatment by the end of this year but will still push ahead for universal access to drugs, the agency said on Tuesday.
Dr. Jim Yong Kim, director of the WHO’s HIV/AIDS department, said its three million target would not be reached due to a slow start because of disagreement on whether poor nations had the capacity to administer HIV treatment programs.
But he said that having one million people now on the program was major progress and he expected there would be more by late 2005.
He also praised Brazil’s free treatment program as well as the G8 nations’ endorsement of universal access to HIV treatment by 2010. This could mean as many as 10 million people would be covered, he said.
“I think all the activity that we see now about treatment is thanks to Brazil,” he said on the fringes of an international AIDS conference in Rio de Janeiro. “If Brazilians did it, then I’m going to put everything I have into reaching that target for everybody by 2010,” he added.
Despite the failure to meet the goal, the number of developing countries with a local target for AIDS treatment soared from three in 2003 to 40 now, Kim said.
“Now we’ve got to get serious about reaching this target of universal access,” he said, acknowledging that this is “going to be one of the most difficult things that we’ve ever done in the history of public health”.
He said the key challenges were to build adequate public health systems in poor countries and recruit health workers.
Kim said poor countries have to have access to all available AIDS drugs and should use all the flexibility allowed under the Agreement on Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights to gain such access.
But he said the WTO also supported intellectual property, especially as a means to develop new drugs, and saw mutually acceptable agreements rather than patent breaking as the best solution.
Revision date: July 8, 2011
Last revised: by Andrew G. Epstein, M.D.