July 13, 2010 / 5:04 PM / 9 years ago

UN sets out AIDS treatment plan to save 10 million

LONDON (Reuters) - Ten million AIDS deaths could be averted by 2025 and a million new HIV infections a year prevented if countries took a fresh look at how to meet targets on treating the disease, the United Nations AIDS programme said on Tuesday.

Crosses in a graveyard in Khayelitsha township, SOuth Africa, February 27, 2010. REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly

The UNAIDS Outlook report called for a simpler approach to tackling the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that causes AIDS, one it said could drastically cut the number of AIDS-related deaths and help to stop HIV from spreading.

World leaders set this year as a deadline for universal access to treatment for all HIV/AIDS patients who need it. Most campaigners say this target will be missed but global health organisations are using it as a focus for new ideas on fighting the epidemic while funding is squeezed due to budget cuts.

“With a rising treatment bill, countries in economic crisis and increasing preventions needs, the world is demanding change in the AIDS response,” Paul de Lay, a UNAIDS deputy director, told reporters on a telephone briefing. He said UNAIDS was determined that through innovation, the costs of AIDS care could be reduced and AIDS drugs could reach more people who need them.

UNAIDS described its vision for “Treatment 2.0” as a new approach aimed at simplifying the way HIV treatment is provided and improving access to life-saving medicines.

It calls for a combination of efforts on drug development and pricing, using treatment to increase prevention, improving healthcare delivery and testing, and involving more community workers in treating AIDS patients to reduce the need for highly qualified doctors and expensive laboratories.

The World Health Organisation’s HIV/AIDS director told Reuters last week he too wants more efficiency and innovation in AIDS care to make better use of scarce funds.

According to UNAIDS estimates 33.4 million people were living with HIV worldwide at the end of 2008. In the same year there were nearly 2.7 million new HIV infections and 2 million AIDS deaths. The heaviest burden is in sub-Saharan Africa, which accounted for 71 percent of new HIV infections in 2008.

The UNAIDS report was published before an AIDS conference starts in Vienna on July 18 when 25,000 scientists, health workers, activists and government officials will discuss the latest advances against the disease.

The global economic crisis is hitting AIDS funding levels — a factor campaigners say is already putting lives at risk. But UNAIDS said its ideas could bring down costs, make treatment simpler and better, cut the burden on health systems and improve quality of life for people with HIV.

De Lay also said more focused targeting of resources now would pay off in the years ahead, possibly leading to a decline in funding needs in around 10 years’ time.

“Scaling up treatment will have a significant prevention dividend and we hope if that is done right, that the costs will remain the same and then ultimately go down,” he said.

A mathematical modelling study conducted by UNAIDS suggested that compared with current treatment approaches, the Treatment 2.0 plan could avert an extra 10 million deaths by 2025 and reduce new HIV infections by up to 1 million every year if countries provided AIDS drugs to all those who need them.

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