20 July 2010
By Kounteya Sinha
New Delhi, India
An additional 1.2 million HIV patients across the globe were started on the lifesaving anti–retroviral treatment (ART) in 2009 – the highest number of infected availing of this medicare in a single year.
According to latest WHO figures, an estimated 5.2 million HIV patients were receiving this life–saving treatment at the end of 2009.
India is among the top 20 countries, which recorded the highest percentage increase in the number of people receiving ART between 2007 and 2008. Over this one year, there was a spurt in 48% of patients – from 1.50 lakh to 2.34 lakh – who could receive ART.
The number of facilities with HIV testing and counselling in the country has also increased from 4,269 in 2007 to 4,817 in 2008. Since 2003, the number of people receiving HIV treatment has increased 12–fold globally. The cost needed for HIV treatment this year is pegged around $ 9 billion, according to UNAIDS.
However, the future for the global fight against AIDS does not seem too bright, financially. A new report, released at the International AIDS Conference in Vienna on Monday, says that donor nation support for AIDS relief was flat in 2009, thanks to the global meltdown, with only $7.6 billion provided during the year, ending the run of annual double–digit percentage point increases in donor support for international AIDS assistance since 2002 when donor governments provided a total of $1.2 billion. America remained the largest donor nation in the world, accounting for more than half (58%) of last year’s disbursements, followed by the United Kingdom (10.2%), Germany (5.2%), the Netherlands (5%) and France (4.4%).
“Reductions in investment on AIDS programs are hurting the Aids response. At a time, when we are seeing results in HIV prevention and treatment, we must scale up, not scale down,” said Michel Sidibi, UNAIDS executive director. UNAIDS estimates that $23.6 billion was needed to address the epidemic in low–and middle–income countries in 2009. That suggests a growing gap of $7.7 billion between available resources and the need.
Though the financial deficit comes as a cause for concern, Dr Hiroki Nakatani – WHO’s assistant director–general for HIV, tuberculosis, malaria and neglected tropical diseases – has praised global efforts to put more and more patients on life–saving HIV drugs. “The 1.2 million is the largest increase in people accessing treatment in a single year. It is an extremely encouraging development,” he said. At the International AIDS Conference, WHO is calling for timely treatment for HIV patients. The basic objective is to begin treatment before they take ill because of weakened immunity.
“Starting treatment earlier gives us an opportunity to enable people living with HIV to stay healthier and live longer,” says Dr Gottfried Hirnschall, WHO, director, HIV/Aids.
Estimates developed through epidemiological modelling suggest that HIV–related mortality can be reduced by 20% between 2010 and 2015 if these guidelines for early treatment are implemented.
Earlier treatment can prevent opportunistic infections including tuberculosis – the number one killer blow for HIV patients. Deaths from TB can be reduced by as much as 90%, if both HIV and TB patients are treated earlier. “In addition to saving lives, earlier treatment has also prevention benefits,” Dr Hirnschall says. “Because treatment reduces the level of virus in the body, it means HIV–positive people are less likely to pass the virus on to their partners.”
ASIA’S FIGHT AGAINST AIDS
- Number of HIV patients in 2008 was 4.7 million against 4.5 million in 2001
- Number of new HIV infections in 2008 was 3.5 lakh against 4 lakh in 2001
- Number of newly–infected children in 2008 was 21,000 against 33,000 in 2001
- Number of Aids–related deaths in 2008 was 3.3 lakh against 2.8 lakh in 2001
- Asia is home to 60% of the world’s population. But, it is second only to sub–Saharan Africa as far as HIV patients is concerned
- India accounts for almost half of Asia’s HIV prevalence
- Only 37% of HIV patients in Asia, who require ART were getting it in 2008, which is below the global average of 42%