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WASHINGTON -- At the Davos World Economic Forum in Switzerland, the World Health Organization (WHO) released a report showing a rapid expansion in the number of people living in poor countries gaining access to life-saving AIDS treatment.
The WHO has set a goal for 2005 of getting antiretroviral medications to 3 million of the 5.8 million people living in developing countries who need them. This goal, called 3 by 5, had been seen by many as quite ambitious, but this report shows some progress. AIDS medications are now being provided to 12.4 percent of those who need them in order to survive, compared to 7.5 percent in mid-2004. The number of facilities for providing the medication is also now far greater than the target of 1000, which WHO had set for the end of 2004.
WHO warns, however, that much more financing is needed to achieve 3 by 5, noting a $2 billion shortfall in needed resources. It says drug pricing is still a barrier, and states that the cost of medication for patients unable to take the normal, first-line course of treatment will pose an increasingly serious public health threat. The report also highlights that much more work is urgently needed to deliver appropriate treatment to children with AIDS, who the report says have been tragically neglected.
The 3 by 5 goal is a solemn promise made to the most desperate people in the world, and we cannot allow a gap of $2 billion to stop this encouraging progress, stated Dr. Paul Zeitz, executive director of the Global AIDS Alliance, an advocacy group based in Washington D.C. This report shows the goal set by WHO is indeed feasible, but now donor governments, including the United States, Japan, and Europe, plus the recipient governments, notably Nigeria, South Africa and India, must do much more.
Regarding the U.S. program, Congress set a goal of 1 million people on treatment by October of this year, noted Zeitz. Yet, Ambassador Tobias is far from on track to achieve this level. Its an open question whether at the current rate the Bush Administration will reach its own target of 2 million by 2008. Plus, its embarrassing to see documented in the report that the United States has provided little support to WHO to expand technical assistance to AIDS-impacted countries, leaving it to Canada to lead the way.
When he submits his 2005 supplemental budget to Congress, President Bush should include emergency funds for WHO technical assistance and for the training and retention of healthcare personnel in Africa, said Zeitz. The Bush Administration should go beyond paying lip service to the need for more healthcare workers in Africa. If the President can request $80 billion more in emergency funds to fight the war in Iraq, why not provide a fraction of that to help achieve 3 by 5?
Also this week, a major generic drug maker in Africa, Aspen Pharmacare, said it had won approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) so its AIDS medication can be used by the U.S. plan.
Confusion has been sown and precious resources wasted as the Administration unnecessarily insisted on brand name drugs, said Zeitz. This approval, a full two years after the Presidents declaration of a global AIDS emergency, is a positive development. But, the product that was approved is not a fixed-dose combination, and, as a result, is not as easy to take. Also, the company would not have gotten its drug approved without positive relationships with several brand name companies, something not all producers of essential, generic medications enjoy.
Source: Global AIDS Alliance