New International Coalition aims to expand Global access to HIV/AIDS treatment
Geneva/Dakar, 12 December 2002 - A new international alliance - the International HIV Treatment Access Coalition (ITAC) - launched today in Geneva and Dakar aims to boost efforts to provide access to antiretroviral drugs to the growing number of people with HIV/AIDS in low and middle income countries who need them.
According to WHO/UNAIDS estimates presented in a new report being launched by the Coalition today, millions of people living with HIV/AIDS in low and middle income countries face death within the coming years unless they can access these life- saving medicines.
Although they are not a cure, antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) inhibit replication of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, and boost the immune system’s ability to fight infections. In all countries where ARVs have become widely available to people living with HIV/AIDS since 1996, they have led to a dramatic reduction in HIV-related illness and death. Ninety-five per cent of the estimated 42 million people with HIV/AIDS live in low and middle income countries, and these countries accounted for over 99% of the 3.1 million AIDS deaths this year. WHO estimates that only about 300,000 people living with HIV/AIDS in these countries are currently using ARVs, that represents only 5% of those who need them.
WHO Director-General Gro Harlem Brundtland said, "Does anyone deserve to be sentenced to certain death because she or he cannot access care that costs less than $2 a day? Is anyone’s life worth so little? Should any family become destitute as a result? Should children be orphaned? The answers must be no, no, no and no."
ITAC currently unites more than 50 partners including NGOs, donors and governments, people living with HIV/AIDS and their advocates, the private sector, academic and research institutions and international organizations working to overcome the challenges of expanding ARV access. These include more efficient sharing of information and technical data about what works in successful programmes, setting up reliable drug procurement systems, and training health care workers. The group also aims to galvanize and coordinate donor action and provide much-needed technical assistance to national HIV treatment programs. It will be served by a small secretariat at WHO's Headquarters in Geneva.
“These drugs have saved hundreds of thousands of lives in Europe and the United States”, said International AIDS Society President Dr Joep Lange. “They could do the same for millions more in developing countries. If we can get cold Coca Cola and beer to every remote corner of Africa, it should not be impossible to do the same with drugs.”
With more donors coming on board and more countries committed to providing ARV treatment, the challenge now is to expand successful pilot programs.
"There is a lot of action in different countries, by governments, donors, the private sector, NGOs and other groups”, said Stu Flavell, International Coordinator of the Global Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS, a member of the new coalition. “But we need these different players to pool their knowledge and work together. That is the only way we are going to move from treating 50 or 100 people in a village to treating hundreds of thousands across the country.”
The Coalition has been created at a time of both crisis and opportunity. In the worst affected countries, over a third of the adult population is now infected with HIV. Although the number of people on ARV treatment increased by nearly two thirds in sub-Saharan Africa in 2002, only 1% of the 4.1 million people living with HIV/AIDS in the region who need treatment now can get ARV medicines. But there is growing commitment to provide access to ARV drugs through the public sector in Africa and elsewhere. Botswana, Senegal, Nigeria, Costa Rica, Cuba and Thailand have all recently set ambitious treatment targets. Many governments have reduced import taxes and duties on HIV-related drugs and commodities.
“Extending access to life-saving antiretroviral treatment is a moral, political and economic imperative,” said Dr Peter Piot, Executive Director of UNAIDS, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS. “We know it is technically feasible to save lives with these drugs, even in the poorest settings. We now have to marshal the political will, the resources and the infrastructure to make it a reality.”
For more information about the Coalition www.itacoalition.org