WHO To Provide HIV/AIDS Drugs by 2005 to Almost Four Times as Many People as All Existing ProgramsWorld Health Organization Director-General Dr. Jong-Wook Lee on Monday during a U.N. General Assembly meeting on HIV/AIDS is expected to announce that his agency will seek to provide three million HIV-positive people, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa, with antiretroviral drugs by 2005, a number that would be nearly four times the total number of people covered under all existing programs, the New York Times reports. WHO will use rapid response techniques it has learned from dealing with the severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, epidemic and health emergencies in Afghanistan, Iraq and Liberia to deliver the antiretroviral treatments. UNAIDS Executive Director Dr. Peter Piot said that "99% of HIV-positive people who need HIV treatment today in sub-Saharan Africa do not have access to it," according to the Times. Dr. Jim Kim, who is overseeing WHO's antiretroviral program, said that WHO will work with UNAIDS, governments and private organizations to provide the drugs. Lee has asked Kim to develop by Dec. 1, which is World AIDS Day, standardized guidelines for delivering quality antiretrovirals, rapidly training health care workers and simplifying treatment regimens and laboratory testing for drug-related complications, according to the Times. WHO will add $100 million to its current $50 million annual HIV/AIDS budget to implement the program and will seek funding from governments and other sources. The "most optimistic" projections estimate that existing treatment programs could provide drugs to about 800,000 people in developing countries by 2005, Kim said. President Bush's five-year global AIDS initiative aims to provide antiretroviral drugs to two million HIV-positive people in 14 countries by 2008, according to the Times.
One unnamed AIDS expert said that WHO's goal of treating three million people by 2005 is a "good one" but likely will not be met because "we lost two years from inaction" while the program was being discussed, according to the Times. However, the expert added that "even if we reach one to two million [people], that would be a huge success." Kim said that three million people must be treated to avoid "an enormous catastrophe." He added, "We cannot wait any longer." WHO does not currently know which antiretroviral regimens it will provide in developing countries, but officials say that they will not wait for years of study to decide on regimens, according to the Times. "[W]e are just going to make a decision because we are working under emergency conditions," Kim said, adding, "We have got to start with something and say this is it" and make future changes if required. WHO plans to use checklists to determine which countries are ready to begin antiretroviral programs. "We hope that through this process with partners we will quickly develop an information base country to country that currently does not exist," in part by using the Internet and teleconferencing, Kim said. He added that "the antiretroviral treatment plans could look different in every country and maybe even in every village and every region," based on what works best in each area (New York Times, 9/22).