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One in four cannot afford AIDS drugs

Though the number of people getting lifesaving antiretroviral drugs used to treat AIDS jumped up by 54% in 2006, one in four people needing treatment still cannot afford the drugs, reports Sanchita Sharma.

health and fitness Updated: Apr 20, 2007 03:29 IST

Though the number of people getting lifesaving antiretroviral drugs used to treat AIDS jumped up by 54 per cent in 2006, one in four people needing treatment still cannot afford the drugs, says a UN report. Currently, there are 39.5 million people living with HIV/AIDS in the world, 5.7 million of them in India.

The report, called Towards Universal Access: Scaling Up Priority HIV/AIDS Interventions in the Health Sector, was jointly released by the World Health Organisation (WHO), UNAIDS and UNICEF on Wednesday.

Of the roughly 39.5 million people living with HIV or AIDS at the end of last year, around 7.1 million people in low- and middle-income countries were sick enough to need anti-retroviral drugs. By the end of 2006, about 2.015 million of these 7.1 million had access to the drugs, which is about 28 per cent people needing treatment.

This falls badly short of the WHO's "Three by Five" initiative that sought to get these treatments to three million people with AIDS by the end of 2005.

Only 11 per cent HIV-positive pregnant women are getting the medicine — navirapine — that could prevent them passing the virus to their baby. In December 2006, only 115,500 — about 15 per cent — of the 780,000 children estimated to need AIDS drugs actually got them.

In India, the National AIDS Control Organisation started giving free paediatric doses of antiretroviral drugs to children under the national programme in December last year. So far, children were being given adult medicines in lower doses.

The report said that the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and President George W. Bush's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) are supporting 1.265 million patients on treatment.

The biggest improvement in drug coverage is in sub-Saharan Africa, where coverage is currently 28 per cent of the 4.8 million in need, compared to just two per cent in 2003. The numbers of those getting treated varies widely in regions — six per cent in North Africa and West Asia; 15 per cent in Eastern Europe and Central Asia; 19 per cent in South, East and Southeast Asia; and 72 per cent in Latin America and the Caribbean.