UNAIDS chief urges renewed focus on HIV cure

Sirte- Libya (PANA) -- Researchers and policymakers must refocus their attention on finding a cure for HIV/AIDS to safeguard the future of mothers and the unborn children, 300,000 of whom are infected in Africa every year, a top UN official said here.
UN Joint Programme for HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) Executive Director Michael Sidibe said the debate on finding a vaccine and a cure for the pandemic could help save more than 22 milli on people affected by the disease in Africa and cut the newborn infections rapidly.
“We need to bring back the debate on cure and vaccine for HIV/AIDS and urge the whole world to investment in a cure,” the UNAIDS chief told PANA in an exclusive interview on the sidelines of the African Union Summit in Sirte, central Libya.
The UNAIDS chief said the number of newborn children getting infected every year continues to increase, further raising the burden of treatment.
However, Sidibe said the fight against HIV/AIDS did not only present challenges to Africa’s public health infrastructure, but could also bring great benefits in the area of technological transfer, which could enable Africa to become self sufficient in the making of own drugs.
“We need to start the transfer of knowledge to Africa.
With continental vision, we could come up with excellent ideas for drug production,” said Sidibe, a veteran public health expert who has spent more than 20 years working in the UN system.
There are fears that African countries, especially South Africa, would be overbu rdened by the epidemic unless efforts are made to cut the mother-to-child HIV/AIDS transmission.
The increased cases of new-born infections are expected to prolong the financial burden that African countries face in the future as they strive to keep the infected populations alive, using the life-prolonging anti-re troviral drugs (ARVs).
“Africans will need these medicines for a longtime.
They need others as well, fo r malaria, tuberculosis and other conditions, yet most of these drugs are not produced in Africa for the lack of stringent quality standar ds and manufacturing capacity,” Sidibe noted.
Africa could benefit from a new source of pharmaceutical revolution if the deman d for HIV/AIDS drugs is sustained with increased drug production, the UN official said.
AIDS drugs are expensive, and experts said they do not work for ever.
The first- line treatment costs US$92 for every patient every year, which is beyond the reach of most Africans who are living well below US$2 a day.
More than 80 percent of the four million infected with HIV/AIDS in Africa are on treatment, yet the continent is unable to manufacture its own drugs, the UN official regretted.
There are also other related public health complications which, if not properly executed, could also worsen the risk of the disease.
In some cases, patients risk developing resistance to the drugs that are used in the management of the disease.
Sidibe said plans should be developed to give guidelines on when patients should be placed on drugs.

02 july 2009 12:34:00

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