UN General Assembly: addressing AIDS as a Public Health Crisis
I enclose, courtesy of washingtonpost.com, an article addressing
today's Special Session on HIV/AIDS of the UN General Assembly.
As a result it is expected that lack of access to ARV treatment
and HIV/AIDS care will be today declared a global emergency by
the United Nations (with a number of strategic and budgetary im-
plications for the UN system).
Department of HIV/AIDS
World Health Organization
Tel: +41 22 791 2865
Fax: +41 22 791 4834
Turning the Tide
By Lee Jong Wook and Peter Piot
Today and every day this year, AIDS will kill more than 8,000
people. Almost all of them will die in poor countries in Africa.
Most will come to the end of their lives with no treatment and
very little care, not even to relieve their pain.
No natural disaster or armed conflict claims so many lives. Yet
the world has failed to respond to this global emergency. Medi-
cines that can treat HIV now cost less than $1 a day -- but they
are still not getting where they're needed most. Of the 5 million
to 6 million HIV-positive people in poor nations who urgently
need antiretroviral drugs, only 300,000, just 5 percent, are get-
ting them. This is truly one of the great human rights and public
health crises of our times.
Today, at a special session of the United Nations General Assem-
bly, the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNAIDS will announce
plans to work with key partners -- including governments and
civil society; other U.N. agencies; multilateral donors such as
the World Bank and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis
and Malaria; the private sector; and people living with HIV -- to
meet the goal of delivering antiretroviral treatment by the end
of 2005 to 3 million people living with HIV in developing coun-
There is no longer any doubt that providing widespread access to
AIDS treatment is practical and achievable. Price is no longer an
excuse. Several major pharmaceutical companies have dramatically
reduced AIDS drug prices, and generics are pushing prices even
lower. Antiretroviral drugs work as well in the developing world
as they do in rich nations, and patients in poor countries are no
different from patients in the rich world in adhering to their
Nations such as Brazil have proven that it is possible to contain
AIDS in developing countries. The Brazilian AIDS program, which
provides free antiretrovirals for every patient in need, more
than pays for itself through a dramatic reduction in AIDS deaths
and hospitalizations, a slowed HIV transmission rate and other
public health gains. National AIDS treatment programs are also
springing up in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and the Caribbean. But
it is time for the global community to come together to dramati-
cally scale up this effort.
Toward this end, WHO and UNAIDS will invite our partners, includ-
ing nongovernmental organizations, to join us in sending emer-
gency response teams to countries most severely affected by AIDS.
These teams will support governments and civil society in imple-
menting simple, effective systems and regimens to quickly and
dramatically increase the availability of antiretroviral treat-
ment in these countries, and to ensure it reaches the people who
need it most.
We will establish a new, centralized facility through which coun-
tries can purchase high-quality, low-priced medicines and patient
monitoring technology as part of a program that also tracks drug
access and monitors the emergence of HIV drug resistance. We will
also announce plans to massively increase training for HIV medi-
cal personnel and for community workers and volunteers who de-
liver treatment in the developing world. And WHO will disseminate
standardized treatment approaches that will simplify AIDS care
and help health officials expand treatment.
Of course, providing treatment to those infected does not replace
the need to prevent HIV infection in the first place. On the con-
trary, we have learned that the two approaches work hand in hand.
The availability of treatment reinforces prevention, encouraging
those at risk to learn their HIV status, receive counseling and
care, and become informed about how to prevent the spread of the
Responding to the AIDS treatment crisis will require a substan-
tial investment by both donor and affected nations. But while the
investment will be large, the benefits are almost incalculable.
The framework that is put in place to provide care for AIDS can
also advance care for tuberculosis, malaria and the other great
killers that plague the developing world.
Lack of access to care for the treatment of AIDS is one of the
greatest public health crises the world faces today. We can re-
spond by providing lifesaving medicines to those in need, build-
ing a better public health system in the process. We are pledged
to work with all our partners -- governments, nongovernmental or-
ganizations and people living with HIV -- to achieve this goal.
Lee Jong Wook is director general of the World Health Organiza-
tion. Peter Piot is executive director of UNAIDS.
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