The World Health Organization (WHO) has placed Botswana among 15 countries that have made significant progress in increasing access to HIV/AIDS treatment by providing more than 80 percent of HIV positive pregnant women with medicines.
A WHO report, whose findings were released last week, says there has been remarkable progress in Eastern and southern Africa – the region most severely affected by HIV.
The WHO, while maintaining that sustained commitments to secure future progress in the treatment of populations affected by HIV is necessary, nevertheless says treatment coverage in the region has increased from 32 to 41 percent in one year, adding that more developing countries show that universal access to services is possible.
Dr Hiroki Nakatani, the WHO Assistant Director-General for HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, Malaria and Neglected Tropical Diseases, said in a press statement that countries in all parts of the world are demonstrating that universal access is achievable.
“But globally, it remains an unfulfilled commitment. And we must join forces to make it a worldwide reality in the coming years,” said Natakani.
The report: “Towards achieving universal access” by the WHO, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) is the fourth annual report for tracking progress made in achieving the 2010 target of providing universal access to HIV prevention, treatment and care.
It notes that significant progress has been made in several low and middle income countries in increasing access to HIV/AIDS services in 2009.
In 2009, 5.25 million people had access to HIV treatment in low- and middle-income countries, accounting for 36 percent of those in need representing an increase of over 1.2 million people from December 2008, the largest increase in any single year.
In sub-Saharan Africa, close to one million more people started on ART, the number increasing from 2.95 million at the end of 2008 to 3.91 million at the end of 2009, covering 7 percent of those in need. Latin America and the Caribbean region reached 50 percent coverage for ART, East, South and South-East AsiaÔÇô31percent, Europe and Central AsiaÔÇô19 percent, and North Africa and the Middle EastÔÇô11 percent.
The report notes that obstacles to scaling up HIV treatment persist in most countries. These include funding shortages, limited human resources and weak procurement and supply management systems for HIV drugs and diagnostics and other health systems bottlenecks. One third of countries reported at least one or more cases when supply of HIV medicines had been interrupted in 2009.
The WHO says prevention efforts to reach most-at-risk populations such as sex workers, drug users, and men who have sex with men are limited. The report says only about one third of injecting drug users in reporting countries were reached with HIV prevention programmes in 2009.
The WHO sees availability and safety of blood and blood products as an in-going concern for HIV prevention, especially in low-income countries. While 99 percent and 85 percent of blood donations in high- and middle-income countries, respectively, were screened in a quality-assured manner in 2009, in low-income countries the comparable figure was 48 percent.
Results from population surveys in ten countries showed more than 60 percent of HIV-positive people did not know their HIV status. As a result, many patients start treatment too late. Around 80 percent of patients initiating treatment were lost to follow-up during the first year, a large proportion of them dying due to late initiation of treatment.
“The report findings indicate challenges but also clear opportunities for optimizing investments and increasing efficiency. By starting treatment earlier and improving adherence within the first year, we can save many more lives,” Dr Gottfried Hirnschall, WHO’s Director for HIV/AIDS said in a media statement.