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The number of people with HIV or AIDS has risen in every region of the world, although many countries have increased their efforts to prevent infections and provide treatment, said the United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, last week.
“Today 40 million people are living with HIV,” Mr Ban said. Almost half of them are women. More women—including married women—are living with HIV than ever before. Without adequate treatment all those infected will die.
“Some 8000 people die of AIDS related illnesses every day. At the same time, another 12000 become infected with HIV. For every person who starts antiretroviral treatment, six more become infected.”
He was speaking at a session of the UN general assembly that was reviewing implementation of the 2001 declaration of commitment on HIV and AIDS and the goal set at last year's high level meeting on AIDS to ensure universal access to HIV prevention programmes, treatment, care, and support by 2010 (BMJ 2006;332:1289 doi: 10.1136/bmj.332.7553.1289, 1349 doi: 10.1136/bmj.332.7554.1349).
Mr Ban said 90 countries had laid groundwork to ensure universal access, by setting national targets and aiming to double or triple by 2010 the number of people being treated with antiretroviral drugs. He said that two million people in low and middle income countries were now being treated. The number of infections of HIV was falling in countries that had made sustained efforts at prevention.
The UN estimates that $18bn (£9bn; €13bn) will be needed this year and $22bn next year to meet its goals of providing universal access to prevention and treatment in low and middle income countries.
Mr Ban said, “As an Asian secretary general, I am determined to speak up about the spread of AIDS on the continent. Every day of denial takes a terrible toll. Every day prevention becomes more urgent.” During his next trip to Asia, he said, he would visit an AIDS clinic or similar facility to speak up on behalf of people with HIV and to draw attention to the fight against the disease.
Mr Ban called for the removal of obstacles that prevented many people, particularly girls and women and members of vulnerable groups, getting prevention services. “It means sustaining these efforts not just for years but for decades to come. For my part, as secretary general, I promise that AIDS will remain a system wide priority for the United Nations.”
Mr Ban met the same day with UNplus, the staff group for employees of the UN or its agencies who are HIV positive. He said he “felt ashamed on their behalf” for the discrimination they often faced and was touched by their courage.
Mr Ban also called for a comprehensive effort to tacked diseases linked with HIV, especially tuberculosis.
The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which the UN backs, announced that by the middle of this year more than one million people around the world would be receiving antiretroviral treatment, about double the number who were being treated this time last year. It also said that the number of people receiving directly observed treatment short course (DOTS) for tuberculosis would double to 2.8 million this year.
Mr Ban named Elizabeth Mataka, a Botswanan policy maker and activist with 16 years' experience in the field, as special envoy for AIDS in Africa, the continent most severely affected by the virus. She replaces Stephen Lewis of Canada, whose term is expiring.
Thailand's public health minister, Mongkol Na Songkhla, was appointed chairman of the coordinating board of UNAIDS, the joint UN programme on HIV and AIDS. He said he plans to promote safer sex practices and condom use worldwide.