World Health Organization says failure to deliver AIDS medicines is a global health emergency
Global AIDS treatment emergency requires urgent response
No more business as usual


22 September 2003 | NEW YORK -- The failure to deliver antiretroviral (ARV) treatment for AIDS to the millions of people who need it is a global health emergency. We have the medicines to treat people for a dollar a day or less but these medicines are not getting to the people who need them.

Some six million people in developing countries have HIV infections that require antiretroviral treatment. But fewer than 300,000 are being treated. In sub-Saharan Africa, where most of the people in need of treatment live, only 50,000 people are receiving it.

To tackle the AIDS treatment emergency, urgent action is needed. The World Health Organization (WHO) will work with UNAIDS and our other partners to take emergency measures. We will use the rapid response skills we have learnt in responding to complex emergencies in Afghanistan, Liberia, Iraq and in quickly controlling the SARS outbreak.

"To deliver antiretroviral treatment to the millions who need it, we must change the way we think and change the way we act," said Dr LEE Jong-wook, Director-General of WHO. "Business as usual will not work. Business as usual means watching thousands of people die every single day.”

WHO will provide emergency response teams to those countries with the highest burden of HIV/AIDS based on direct appeals from governments. These teams, made up of experts in AIDS treatment from international and non-governmental organisations, will work with governments to find ways to urgently speed up the delivery of antiretroviral drugs to the people who need them.

Already, WHO is:

3 million on ARVs by 2005

Today, WHO and UNAIDS are renewing their commitment to meeting an ambitious target: providing antiretroviral medicines to three million people by the end of 2005, the "3 by 5" target.

With all existing programmes, fewer than one million people who need antiretroviral treatment will receive it by the end of the target year of 2005.

WHO, UNAIDS and our partners are developing a comprehensive global strategy to meet the 3 by 5 target. Strategy details will be announced on December 1st, World AIDS Day.

"The scale of the global HIV treatment emergency should not be underestimated: about 99% of HIV-positive people who need HIV treatment today in sub-Saharan Africa do not have access to it," said Dr Peter Piot, UNAIDS Executive Director. "However, AIDS therapy is a long-term commitment, not a one shot. We therefore need dramatic and sustained increases in resources and political commitment - including from hard-hit countries themselves. Above all, we must incorporate treatment into wider emergency plans for HIV prevention and care, without which we stand no chance of reversing the tide of the AIDS epidemic."

Success requires effort by all

Together with UNAIDS and other partners, WHO is leading the response to this global health emergency and is urging governments, donors, other international organizations, non-governmental organizations, people living with HIV/AIDS and industry to join together to ensure that the millions of people who urgently need antiretroviral medicines will receive them.

"Countries can’t pay for these medicines without outside assistance," said Dr Richard Feachem, Executive Director of The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. "The Global Fund was set up to help finance such a scale-up. We need to see ambitious applications for grants to help people in need of treatment."

AIDS Treatment Facts

AIDS killed more than 3 million people in 2002. That's more than 8,000 people every single day or 1 person every 10 seconds.

Of the 42 million people currently infected with HIV, five-six million urgently need antiretroviral treatment due to the seriousness of their illness.

Currently, only 300,000 people in developing countries receive antiretroviral medicines. In Africa, less than 50,000 people have access to ARVS.

Many groups have shown that ART can be delivered in poorer countries with comparable effectiveness and benefits to that seen in richer countries.

Given current trends, including all the programmes under way and all the funds donated for this effort, these medicines will reach fewer than one million people by the end of 2005.

The cost of ARVS has substantially been reduced, and treatment is available in some of the poorest countries in the world for one dollar a day or less.

For more information contact:

Christine McNab
Telephone: +41 22 791 4688
Mobile phone: +41 79 254 6815
E-mail: mcnabc@who.int

Iain Simpson
Telephone: +41 22 791 3215
Mobile phone: +41 79 475 5534
E-mail: simpsoni@who.int

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