Global AIDS Leaders Call for Lower Drug Prices, Increased Funding To Fight Disease After Release of New HIV/AIDS Data
Global HIV/AIDS leaders have said that new data on the pandemic released on Monday by UNAIDS and the World Health Organization highlight the need for increased access to antiretroviral treatment and HIV prevention programs, the Washington Post reports (Timberg, Washington Post, 11/22). The report, titled "AIDS Epidemic Update: December 2005," estimates that the total number of HIV-positive people worldwide has reached its highest level ever, increasing from 39.4 million in 2004 to 40.3 million currently. It also says that nearly five million new HIV cases occurred in 2005 and about 3.1 million people died of AIDS-related illnesses this year, bringing the total number of deaths from the disease to more than 25 million since 1981. Although the report notes that the number of HIV cases increased in every region of the world except the Caribbean last year, some countries that have invested heavily in prevention programs -- including Kenya, Zimbabwe and some Caribbean countries -- have lowered their HIV prevalence rates. In addition, access to HIV treatment has improved over the last two years, with more than one million people in middle- and low-income countries receiving antiretroviral treatment, leading to an estimated 250,000 to 300,000 avoided deaths in 2005, according to the report (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 11/21).
Drug Access Comments
Richard Feachem, executive director of the Global Fund To Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, said that the world's need for antiretroviral drug access is "far from met," adding that the fund needs $3.3 billion more in pledges to meet its 2006 and 2007 goals. "This [report] is an affirmation that global investments and commitment can have an impact on the devastation of this disease," Feachem said in a statement, adding, "We must now accelerate the scale-up of prevention, testing and treatment to keep pace with the growing epidemic." He said the Global Fund has received $3.8 billion of the $7.1 billion needed to implement its programs over the next two years (Agence France Presse, 11/21). Feachem added that quadrupling the fund's budget to $20 billion annually would produce significant decreases in the mortality rates among HIV-positive people and decrease the number of new HIV cases (Washington Post, 11/22). Jim Yong Kim, outgoing WHO director for HIV/AIDS, on Sunday called for a system that would allow rival pharmaceutical companies to produce antiretroviral drugs at low prices and pay modest royalties to the patent holders, the Financial Times reports. "I don't see another way to get the prices to the levels needed so that the Group of Eight [industrialized nations] can meet its aspirations," Kim said, adding, "Their cost for the cheapest second line HIV drug is $1,500, while I have Chinese companies who tell me they can do it for $150 but won't because they don't want to violate patents" (Jack/Johnson, Financial Times, 11/21).
More Work on Prevention, Vaccines
Kim said the estimate in the report that there have been nearly five million new HIV cases this year showed global HIV prevention efforts have "failed, failed, failed," the Boston Globe reports. He said that government prevention programs in Eastern Europe and parts of Asia should include the provision of clean needles for injection drug users, and worldwide prevention efforts should emphasize HIV testing and prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission. Mark Stirling, UNAIDS director for Eastern and Southern Africa, said, "What we have now is a proliferation of small-scale activities," adding, "It's not a question of we don't know what to do, but there is a concern we are perhaps not doing it well enough." Stirling called for the scale-up of programs that encourage condom use, safe blood use in hospitals and clinics, and HIV counseling and testing (Donnelly, Boston Globe, 11/22). Seth Berkley, founder of the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative, said that the report highlights the need for increased funding for HIV vaccine research and development, adding that "without a vaccine, we really don't have the tools we need to end the epidemic." Berkley said that about $1.2 billion in annual funding for vaccine research would approximately double the amount of investigation currently conducted and "optimize the number of vaccines in trials," adding, "[E]ven a moderately effective vaccine could dramatically reduce the number of infections" (De Capua, VOA News, 11/21).
NPR's "All Things Considered" on Monday reported on the report. The segment includes comments from Kim and from George Lott, an epidemiologist with WHO (Wilson, "All Things Considered," NPR, 11/21). The complete segment is available online in RealPlayer.