Huge Strides Made to Treat HIV in Sub-Saharan Region


Countries in sub-Saharan Africa have dramatically improved access to HIV and AIDS treatment for citizens over the past three years, a United Nations report has found.


The report entitled "Towards universal access – scaling up priority HIV and AIDS interventions in the health sector" is a joint effort from the World Health Organisation (WHO), the Joint UN Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).


It found that in sub-Saharan Africa, the region worst affected by HIV and AIDS, about 28 percent of people received HIV treatment, a huge improvement compared to 2 percent three years earlier.


According to the report released Tuesday, more than two million people living with HIV and AIDS in low and middle income countries received antiretroviral (ARV) therapy in 2006.


This is a 54 percent increase over the 1.3 million people on treatment, a year earlier in those countries.


Progress was also being made in other regions, such as North Africa, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, Central Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, said the report.


However, the report noted that unless the pace of growth rose rapidly, the goal of achieving universal access by 2010 would remain out of reach.


It further noted that the rising rates of access to treatment had dramatically lowered prices for most first-line ARV drugs. Some prices fell by more than 50 percent.


UNAIDS Executive Director Peter Piot said the increased access was "a positive step forward".


"However new data in the report also shows that there is still a long way to go, particularly in the widespread provision of treatment to prevent mother to child transmission of HIV, which remains one of the simplest and cheapest proven prevention methods available," he said.


UNICEF Executive Director Ann Veneman added that the number of children receiving treatment remained unacceptably low.


"Children continue to be the missing face of the AIDS pandemic," said Ms Veneman.


In 2005, UNICEF, UNAIDS and other partners launched the Unite for Children, Unite against AIDS campaign.


This was in response to the plight of many children who were missing out on life-saving treatment and access to other essential services.


In this regard, the campaign targets four key areas:

* prevention of mother to child transmission,
* treatment of paediatric AIDS,
* education programmes for prevention and
* support for orphans and vulnerable children.


WHO’s HIV and AIDS Director Kevin De Cock added access to treatment needed to be broadened to drug users as well as children.


"Access to HIV testing and counselling is a critical entry point for both prevention and treatment services, therefore needs to be broadened significantly if we are to come near to reaching the targets for universal access by 2010," said Mr De Cock.


The recommendations made by the report include:

* The acceleration of efforts to prevent, diagnose and treat HIV in children,
* a scaling up of services to prevent mother-to-child transmission and
* the introduction of new strategies to boost knowledge of HIV status, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa.


The report further added that male circumcision is also an important additional HIV prevention step, urging countries to scale up access to safe circumcision services.


It also called for greater access for sufferers, to quality treatment and preventive care for tuberculosis, as almost 1 million people living with HIV and AIDS contract the disease each year.


Nozipho Dlamini is with Bua News, a South African News Service.

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