Funds and affordable drugs needed to turn target into treatment
New York, 9 June 2011 — On the heels of new evidence that shows HIV treatment is also HIV prevention, governments meeting at a UN Summit on AIDS have taken a critical step by committing to reach 15 million people with HIV treatment by 2015 – but they must take immediate concrete action to make this treatment target a reality, the international medical humanitarian organization Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) / Doctors Without Borders said today.
“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 can stop the virus,” said Sharonann Lynch, HIV/AIDS Policy Advisor for MSF’s Campaign for Access to Essential Medicines. “The clock starts now – everyday, we need to get more people on treatment than the day before.”
Fresh scientific evidence shows that treatment is also a form of prevention, as it reduces the risk of transmission of HIV from one person to another by 96 percent. By ambitiously expanding treatment, according to new research by UNAIDS, twelve million infections and more than seven million deaths can be averted by 2020. It could also reduce by more than half the number of new infections by 2015. This will require an additional $6 billion top up each year until 2015. However, funding for AIDS declined in both 2009 and 2010, leaving the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, the US-government’s PEPFAR and other programs short of resources.
“There are nine million people waiting for HIV treatment today,” said Dr Tido von Schoen-Angerer, Executive Director of MSF’s Access Campaign. “This whole AIDS Summit will have been a farce if we don’t see real plans to ramp up treatment so we can get ahead of the wave of new infections.”
Countries also need to ensure that the medicines needed to break the back of the epidemic remain affordable. This means not just supporting policies that drive down prices, but refraining from pushing policies that drive up prices by imposing ever tighter intellectual property protection. In particular, free trade agreements negotiated by the US, the EU and others with developing countries are creating further barriers to price-busting generic competition, and threaten access to affordable newer medicines.
“Without affordable medicines, access to treatment cannot become a reality,” said Michelle Childs, policy/advocacy director of MSF’s Access Campaign. “Over six million people are on treatment today, largely because generic production drove the price of the first generation of AIDS medicines down by 99% since 2000. This success can only be repeated with newer and more potent medicines if barriers to low-cost drug production are removed. But countries are making promises to treat AIDS in one meeting and working hard to keep prices out of reach behind closed doors in other meetings. This double-speak has to stop.”
The final declaration ending the UN General Assembly High-Level Meeting on HIV/AIDS is expected to be formally endorsed by countries on 10 June.
MSF currently provides antiretroviral treatment to 170,000 people living with HIV/AIDS in 19 countries and sources more than 80 percent of the antiretroviral medicines it uses in its projects from generic manufacturers in India.