Achieving universal access to treatment for people living with HIV/AIDS by 2010 is one the targets of the eight Millennium Development Goals agreed upon by countries of the world in 2000.
This treatment uses antiretroviral (ARV) drugs which work by slowing way the virus spreads in the body. Getting HIV+ people on treatment has a ripple effect that means health and development improvements across the board. With ARVs, HIV+ people are healthy for longer and are able to live fulfilled lives in the families and communities. People on ARVs are also less likely to transmit the virus because there is less of it in their body than someone who is not being treated.
Without a cure, ARV treatment is our best course of action for people who are HIV+. There are many challenges to getting people on ARV treatment – cost, transportation, medical expertise – being just a few. The good news is that more and more countries are showing that despite the challenges, its possible to make universal ARV treatment work.
UNAIDS, UNICEF and the WHO released a report yesterday highlighting countries who are well on their way to achieving universal treatment: eight countries have achieved universal access to ARVs for adults, 80% of HIV+ pregnant women are receiving treatment to prevent HIV from being passed onto their babies in 15 countries, and 80% of HIV+ children are receiving treatment in 14 countries.
This great news for those populations – and the ‘Born HIV Free’ (http://www.bornhivfree.org/) campaign – but many others are still excluded – women who are not pregnant and men – both groups who are more likely to transmit the virus sexually. Globally, only 36% of those who need ARV treatment are getting it; Eastern Europe, Central Asia, North Africa and the Middle East are the areas with the lowest coverage (less than 20%); Latin America has the highest at 51%.
New research showing that starting treatment earlier improves health outcomes for HIV+ patients has led to a change in guidelines qualifying an additional 4.5 million people for treatment. This hasn’t helped the statistics, but even without these additional patients, coverage was approximately 52%.
Universal access to ARVs must still be a priority, even though the MDG deadline has passed. The Global Fund and other funding bodies must continue to make funds available for ARV access. World leaders need to commit funds now so countries can plan their strategies to reach this key target in the fight against ARVs.