Promising cheaper drugs, simpler regimens, and more money, two United Nations agencies launched a campaign Monday to provide 3 million HIV-infected people with the latest drugs available by the end of 2005, potentially revolutionizing treatment of the disease. In marking World AIDS Day, the World Health Organization also certified a new generic drug for use in treating HIV. The tablet combines three essential antiretroviral drugs into one pill that is taken twice a day. The pills are manufactured by two India-based generic-drug makers and cost patients only $270 a year, but they violate patents held by two major drug manufacturers. In order to legally import the drugs, countries must suspend the rights of the patent holder. WHO's approval of simplified treatment regimens and generic antiretroviral drugs is only one part of the agency's strategy, dubbed "3 x 5." WHO also joined the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS in encouraging greater financial aid to poor countries.
The detailed plan also focuses on establishing the United Nations as a global leader in fighting HIV, ensuring a reliable source for essential drugs, and creating a system for disseminating the latest information on HIV. "In two short decades HIV/AIDS has become the premiere disease of mass destruction," said Jack Chow, assistant director-general of WHO. "The death odometer is spinning at 8,000 lives a day and accelerating." Treating 3 million patients with antiretroviral drugs by 2005 will cost about $5.5 billion over the next two years, Chow said.
More than 40 million people are infected with HIV, and more than 3 million have died in 2003, UNAIDS reported last week. WHO estimates more than 5 million HIV patients need antiretroviral drugs but that fewer than 400,000 currently have access to them.