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3 million on ARV's, millions still lagging behind

afrol News, 3 June - Close to 3 million people have access to antiretroviral therapy in low and middle income countries, but access to prevention and treatment still lacking for millions in Africa.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), UNAIDS and UNICEF report published yesterday, end of 2007 was a great milestone in the history of HIV/AIDS epidemic, with one third of the infected population accessing ARVs.

Though most of low and middle income countries had dismally failed to reach the '3 by 5' target to have at least 3 million people living with HIV on treatment by 2005, the WHO Director general said 950,000 intake in 2007 was a remarkable achievement of 42 percent in the fight against AIDS.

WHO Director General, Dr Margaret Chan said target reached was a clear indication of improved health services combined with commitment and determination of health partners.

"People living in resource-constrained settings can indeed be brought back to economically and socially productive lives by these drugs," she said.

The reports estimated that 9.7 million people are in need of drugs, but by the end of 2007, the total number on treatment had still not reached that figure, leaving an estimated 6.7 million people unable to access potentially life-saving drugs.

The report said by the end of 2007 an estimated 33.2 million people worldwide were living with HIV, with 2.5 million people as new infections. It further found out that there had been a significant improvement in the availability of HIV testing and counselling services.

The report blames the failure to achieve more widespread access to drugs on weak healthcare systems in badly affected countries, coupled with a lack of trained staff and sustainable, long-term financing.

UNAIDS Executive Director, Dr Peter Piot, said the report highlights achievements despite many constraints that countries face and is a real step forward towards universal access to HIV prevention, treatment care and support.

"Building on this, countries and the international community must now also work together to strengthen both prevention and treatment efforts," he added.

For children, accessing ARV, the number rose from 127,000 in 2006 to 200,000 last year. Also at the end of 2007, nearly half a million women were able to get antiretroviral to prevent giving HIV to their unborn children, compared to only 350,000 a year earlier.

The report attributes a slow progress in ARV therapy to poor patient retention, few people knowing their status while at the same time, diagnosis come too late for many people and poor integration of tuberculosis and HIV.

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