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World AIDS Day highlights big challenges 20 years on

health-and-fitness Updated: Nov 30, 2008 11:32 IST

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As World AIDS Day is marked on Monday, the fight against the disease remains stymied by the of adequate treatment in poor countries and setbacks in finding an effective vaccine, experts say.

To be sure, there have been plenty of advances over the past two decades. While 33 million people have the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that causes AIDS, more are enjoying healthier, longer lives thanks to powerful new medications.

Organisers of World AIDS Day -- built around the themes of leadership, self-responsibility and activism -- are calling on governments to follow through on promises of universal treatment, prevention, care and support.

"We have effective treatments. We have no other choice than to offer them to all those who need them," said Jean-Francois Delfraissy, head of the French National Research Agency on AIDS and viral hepatitis (ANRS).

But affordable and effective treatment remains a rarity in Africa, home to the majority of HIV-positive people, making prospects of universal access to medication remote in the near future.

In poorer countries, the choice may eventually be between treating millions of HIV-positive patients, or offering more expensive treatment to some 500,000 people who are resistant to mainstream therapies, Delfraissy said.

Even in wealthier nations like France, where 5,200 new HIV-positive cases were registered last year, thousands of others remain unaware they are infected.

On Friday, the United Nations urged countries to focus on the roots of the epidemic and draw on a panoply of tried-and-tested tools to help HIV from spreading among people most at risk.