The U.N. conference on HIV/AIDS was poised to sign off on Thursday on an ambitious goal to provide treatment for 15 million additional HIV-infected people by 2015, delegates said.
Government delegates attending the U.N. General Assembly high-level debate on fighting the 30-year-old epidemic said increased funding and more effective medication could also drastically cut down the number of infections and prevent new ones by 2015.
Separate goals to reduce the number of new infections to zero by 2015 would also include the elimination of HIV infections among children and keeping their infected mothers alive.
Doctors Without Borders, a French relief group, said the 15-million treatment goal could be reached if the international community recommits to universal access to treatment and prevention remains at the heart of the anti-AIDS campaign.
“By agreeing to expand HIV treatment to 15 million people in four years, governments are committing to take the latest science that treatment is prevention and turn it into policies that save lives and stop the virus,” said Sharonann Lynch, the group’s HIV/AIDS policy adviser.
“The clock starts now,” she said. “Every day, we need to get more people on treatment than the day before.” There are currently 6.6 million people in poor countries living with HIV under anti-retroviral treatment and another 9 million without it, mostly because of the lack of funding.
A recent study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control said if anti-retroviral drugs are taken early following an infection, it can reduce the risk of transmission of the virus by 96 per cent.
British International Development Minister Stephen O’Brien said his government stands ready to take part in the new plan, with a focus on Africa, where there are currently 22.5 million HIV infections of the world total of more than 34 million.
An estimated 15 million children in Sub-Saharan countries have lost one or both parents to AIDS.
“We will concentrate our efforts where it is needed most, particularly in Africa, focusing our HIV programmes in fewer countries where we can have the greatest impact and working through partners elsewhere,” Mr. O’Brien said. “We will prevent HIV infections among women by at least half a million in Africa.” He said Britain will work with pharmaceutical companies to get even more people on anti-retroviral treatment, including working with the Clinton Health Access Initiative, whose main task has been to convince the drugs industry to sell anti-AIDS drugs at prices the poor can afford. One drug, tenofovir, can help an estimated 500,000 people living with the virus.
Former U.S. president Bill Clinton attended U.N. meetings, advising governments on ways to use limited AIDS funds more effectively. He helped launch on Thursday the initiative to eliminate new infections among children by 2015.
Clinton was joined by Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, Mr. O’Obrien and Lorna Golding, wife of Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding, and U.N. officials to endorse countdown to zero plan.
The U.N. said new HIV infections have declined in the last decade, while at the same time top anti-AIDS drugs have gone down in price.
The U.N.-AIDS programme said an additional 6 billion dollars are needed each year in order to drastically reduce the number of new infections by 2015. Funds needed in 2009 to fight AIDS stood at more than 23 billion dollars, but only about 16 billion dollars were made available.