AIDS treatment up in 2009; 2010 targets in doubt: WHO

NAIROBI (Reuters) – A record 1.2 million people in low and middle income countries started antiretroviral therapy for HIV/AIDs in 2009, the World Health Organisation said yesterday, but targets set for 2010 are unlikely to be met.

A total of 5.25 million people were receiving antiretroviral therapy in 2009, three-quarters of them in Africa, WHO said in a report co-authored with UN children’s fund UNICEF and UNAIDS.

“Millions of people are alive today as a result of investments in HIV over the past few years,” it said, reporting success in “reducing new infections, averting deaths and ensuring that people living with HIV enjoy healthy lives.”

The report said eight low and middle income countries — Botswana, Cambodia, Croatia, Cuba, Guyana, Oman, Romania and Rwanda — met the goal of giving treatment to at least 80 per cent of patients in need in 2009, well ahead of the end-2010 deadline agreed by world leaders in 2006.

However, global targets for HIV prevention, treatment, care and support are unlikely to be reached in 2010, it said.

Only a third of people who need antiretroviral therapy are receiving it and less than 40 per cent of people living with HIV know their status.

“In many parts of our continent there is not really any great incentive for knowing your HIV status,” Mohamed Ibrahim, Director of Kenya’s National AIDS/STD Control Programme, told a news conference while launching the report in Nairobi.

“Stigma and discrimination unfortunately is still very high.” After 15 years of increased support for HIV/AIDS programmes, funding stagnated due to the global economic crisis. In 2009, commitments from donor governments totalled $8.7 billion, equal to that in 2008.

National testing campaigns have proven successful in several African countries like Burkina Faso, Malawi, Kenya and Tanzania. South Africa has launched the world’s largest HIV testing campaign, aiming to test 15 million people by June 2011.

“It is clear that without continued and strengthened financial and programmatic commitments, there is considerable danger that these achievements could be undone,” the report said.