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WHO: Access to
HIV treatment improved

WHO: Access to
HIV treatment improved

Lower prices for HIV drugs have significantly improved access to treatment for people in poor countries, but figures are still far off target for the United Nations' long-term goal of universal coverage by 2010, the World Health Organization said Tuesday.

By the end of 2006 some 2 million people in low- and middle-income countries were receiving the antiretroviral drugs that help treat the HIV infection, according to WHO's annual progress report.

This represents an increase of 54% over the 1.3 million people treated the year before, meaning that about 28% of those in need now receive the drugs.

''The encouraging progress that was made...has been sustained,'' Charlie Gilks, head of WHO's HIV treatment department, told reporters in Geneva. One of the main reasons for the success is the significant drop in the cost of drugs, he said.

Price competition from manufacturers of generic drugs has forced pharmaceutical companies to lower the cost of treatment. Negotiations between governments, drugmakers, and nongovernmental organizations to offer cheaper treatment to poor countries have also paid off, he said.

Another reason for the increase in access is greater political commitment by governments and better funding for treatment through programs such as the U.S. President's Emergency Plan and the intergovernmental Global Fund, Gilks added. ''We have every reason to believe that this success will continue,'' he said, though he warned that greater effort is needed if the U.N. is to reach its target of universal access in three years' time.

While Latin America leads the way with treatment available for 72% of those who need it, sub-Saharan Africa has also made significant progress and now provides the drugs to 28% of people who need them, up from only 2% in 2003.

The lowest access rate in poor countries is in North Africa and the Middle East, where about 6% of people who need HIV drugs receive them, the report says.

Gilks said greater access to treatment for children and better prevention of mother-to-child transmission need to be tackled as well. At present, only 15% of children in need have access to drugs, partly because of difficulties diagnosing HIV in infants. (AP)

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