The anti-AIDS campaign has finally gained ground in Africa where up to 2 million patients are able to receive the antiretroviral ( ARV) medications after years of efforts, an official of the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Thursday. .
There were 3 million patients worldwide provided with ARV in 2007, including 2 million in Africa, Dr. Teguest Guema, a director of the AIDS program of the world health body, told Xinhua in a recent interview.
Despite the headway, challenges loom large ahead with a total of 9 million AIDS patients in need of access to ARV, she said. Even the target of 3 million people set in 2005 failed to be fulfilled until 2007, according to the official.
Guema made the comments on the sideline of an international conference on AIDS and sexually-transmitted infections in Africa, which was opened here on Wednesday and will end on Sunday. The meeting is the second hosted by Senegal.
She said the progress was made under the WHO initiative of "three by five" which means 3 million people by 2005. In the past, the target remained a dream, which eventually came true in 2007, although it was two years later than expected.
But the number of patients in need of ARV has since increased, with the figure initially estimated at 6 million, but now at 9 million, the official said, adding there are still 6 million patients in absence of the medications.
The challenges also come from the fact that patients receive the treatment much earlier today than in the past. At first, doctors withheld therapy until there were symptoms of AIDS or until immune system cells called CD4 T-cells dropped below 200/ml.But now patients begin to receive treatment at a level below 350/ ml, she said.
The change was made to improve treatments. At the level below 200/ml, most patients would die of complications in the first six months of the treatment, because the disease would have well developed.
She hailed the great stride in pharmaceutical industry, saying patients had to take medicines at different hours a day in the 1980s, when the cost was averaged at a yearly 5,000 U.S. dollars to 10,000 dollars for each person. But now a patient has to take his dose once a day, while the cost is lowered to a yearly 100 dollars to 150 dollars. Most of the countries also offer gratuitous treatment. Besides, new medications may appear on the markets every day.
Still, the official stressed the prevention of the disease as a top priority, If all patients took the test at the beginning of infection and received the earliest possible treatment, the new infections would drop by 95 percent in 10 years, the official said, citing a mathematical model lately adopted by WHO.
She said the organization will hold consultations with experts and representatives of communities in the first quarter of 2009 to promote the prevention strategy.
When asked about the recent statistics showing a sharp increase of young people under 25 infected with HIV, the doctor said the young people have been more or less neglected for years, while there has been a high risk for them in many places. Each country should have a study of its population in order to know who are at the center of the epidemic. Efforts are really needed to promote the intervention and prevention of HIV among this part of population.