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Progress report on the fight against HIV/AIDS

2 October 2009 -- More than four million HIV-positive people are now receiving life-saving treatment. In this episode we look at a new report that shows progress in the fight against HIV/AIDS as well as some of the challenges that lie ahead.

Transcript of the podcast

Veronica Riemer: You’re listening to the WHO podcast, and my name is Veronica Riemer. In this episode we look at a new report that shows progress in the fight against HIV/AIDS as well as some of the challenges that lie ahead.

Towards universal access is the third in a series of annual progress reports developed by The World Health Organization, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS). The report includes the latest figures on access to antiretroviral treatment, HIV testing and counselling and the prevention of mother-to-child transmission.

Dr Teguest Guerma the Acting Director of the HIV AIDS department at WHO talks to us about the main findings of the report.

Dr Teguest Guerma: Access to antiretroviral therapy, testing and counselling and services to prevent mother-to-child transmission for HIV, all increased significantly in 2008 in low and middle-income countries. More than four million people (in low and middle income countries) were receiving antiretroviral therapy at the end of 2008, up from 3 million in 2007. This is an increase of 36%, a ten fold increase from 2003.

Veronica Riemer: One of the major challenges is preventing HIV-positive mothers from passing the virus to their child during pregnancy, labour, delivery or breastfeeding. Corinne Woods, Senior Adviser for HIV and AIDS at UNICEF explains.

Corinne Woods: Certainly, the elimination of mother-to-child transmission is the core of the vision of an AIDS free generation. The fact that we have these 400,000 new infections amongst babies every year is unacceptable, and the news in this report, that 45% of pregnant women living with HIV received antiretroviral drugs, is a dramatic step towards this virtual elimination and the AIDS-free generation. If we are to achieve this virtual elimination, we need high level leadership that asks the questions, why did we get these infections, why were the services not available, why were they not used, how can we ensure that they are used?

Veronica Riemer: Despite the recent progress, access to treatment services is falling far short of need. Certain people at high risk of HIV infection continue to face legal and cultural barriers in accessing health care. Dr Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of UNAIDS highlights those most vulnerable.

Michel Sidibé: It is not universal access that we are seeing for most at-risk people - what we are experiencing unfortunately is universal obstacles - it is not universal access. We have today more than 80 countries who are having homophobic laws, more than 10 countries who are having death penalty when you are practicing same sex, you have less than 60% of the people who are drug users and who are not having access to services. It is just unacceptable when we are talking about universal access, when we are talking about restoring dignity of the people, when we are talking about being inclusive, at the same time finding ourselves without having access to services for those people.

Veronica Riemer: The Global Fund is a global partnership which raises resources to prevent and treat HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis. Daniel Low-Beer, Director of Performance Impact and Effectiveness at the Global Fund explains that 2010 is a key year to renew commitment, leadership and funding to HIV.

Daniel Low-Beer: It is very important that we have the full resources, we don't cut corners on areas like life-saving treatment, in hand with that effort to reduce prices of treatment and ensure more systematic coverage. It is very important that we move towards in this next year that recommitment of our technical resources, country programmes but also towards this US$25 billion estimate to support the fight against HIV AIDS.

Veronica Riemer: If you would like more information about WHO's work on HIV/AIDS, or would like to read the report Towards universal access please see the links published on the transcript page of this podcast.

That's all for this episode of the WHO podcast. Thanks for listening. If you have any comments on our podcast or have any suggestions for future health topics drop us a line. Our email address is

For the World Health Organization, this is Veronica Riemer in Geneva.