'4 million people on ART therapy in low, middle income nations'

Nairobi- Kenya (PANA) -- More than 4 million people in low and middle income coun tries were receiving antiretroviral therapy (ART) at the close of 2008, representing a 36% increase in one year and a 10-fold increase over five years, according to a new report released Wednesday by the World Health OrganiSation (WHO), the UNICEF and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AID S (UNAIDS).
The report, titled â?Towards Universal Access: Scaling Up Priority HIV/AIDS Int erventions in the Health Sector,â? highlights other gains, including expanded HIV testing and counselling and improved access to services to prevent HIV trans mission from mother to child.
According to the report, access to ART continues to expand at a rapid rate with, for example, the estimated 9.
5 million people in need of treatment in 2008 in low and middle income countries, 42% having access, up from 33% in 2007.
The gre atest progress was seen in sub-Saharan Africa, where two-thirds of all HIV infections occur.
Prices of the most commonly used anti-retroviral drugs have meanwhile declined s ignificantly in recent years, contributing to wider availability of treatment.
T h e cost of most first-line regimens decreased by 10-40% between 2006 and 2008.
However, sec ond-line regimens continue to be expensive.
Despite recent progress, the report observes, access to treatment services is fa lling far short of need and the global economic crisis has raised concerns about their sustainability.
Many patients are being diagnosed at a late stage of disease pro gression, resulting in delayed initiation of ART and high rates of mortality in t he first year of treatment.
"This report shows tremendous progress in the global HIV/AIDS response," said WH O Director-General Margaret Chan.
"But we need to do more.
At least 5 million pe o ple living with HIV still do not have access to life-prolonging treatment and care.
Prevent ion services fail to reach many in need.
Governments and international partners m ust accelerate their efforts to achieve universal access to treatment.
" Recent data indicate increasing availability of HIV testing and counselling serv ices.
In 66 reporting countries, the number of health facilities providing such s ervices increased by about 35% between 2007 and 2008.
Testing and counselling services are also being used by an increasing number of people.
In 39 countries, the total reported number of HIV tests performed more t h an doubled between 2007 and 2008.
Ninety-three percent of all countries that reported data across a ll regions provided free HIV testing through public sector health facilities in 2 008.
In 2008, access to HIV services for women and children improved.
Approximately 4 5% of HIV-positive pregnant women received antiretroviral drugs to prevent HIV t r ansmission to their children, up from 35% in 2007.
Some 21% of pregnant women in low and middle inco me countries received an HIV test, up from 15% in 2007.
More children are benefiting from paediatric anti-retroviral therapy programmes, with the number of children under 15 years of age who received ART rising from a pproximately 198,000 in 2007 to 275,700 in 2008, reaching 38% of those in need.
Globally, AIDS remains the leading cause of mortality among women of reproductiv e age.
"Although there is increasing emphasis on women and children in the global HIV/A IDS response, the disease continues to have a devastating impact on their health , livelihood and survival," said Ann M.
Veneman, UNICEF Executive Director.
In 2008, more data became available on access to HIV services for populations at high risk of HIV infection, including sex workers, men who have sex with men an d injecting drug users.
While HIV interventions are expanding in some settings, population groups at hig h risk of HIV infection continue to face technical, legal and socio-cultural bar r iers in accessing health care services.
The majority of those living with HIV also remain unaware of their HIV status, with low awareness of personal risk of HIV infection and fear of stigma and disc r imination accounting, in part, for low uptake of testing services, it was observ e d.
"All indications point to the number of people needing treatment rising dramatic ally over the next few years," said Michel Sidibأ©, Executive Director of UNAIDS .
"Ensuring equitable access will be one of our primary concerns and UNAIDS will c ontinue to act as a voice for the voiceless, ensuring that marginalized groups a n d people most vulnerable to HIV infection have access to the services that are s o vital to their wellbeing and to that of their families and communities.
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30 september 2009 11:58:00




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