The World Health Organization declared on Monday that the failure to deliver treatment to nearly six million people with HIV/AIDS in developing countries was a “global public health emergency.”
Inspired by its success in fighting the virus that causes severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), the Geneva based health agency said it had joined forces with UNAIDS (the joint UN programme on HIV/AIDS) and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria to send emergency response teams to the worst hit countries.
The organisation's previous global alerts were on SARS in March and before that on tuberculosis in 1993.
The latest alert came as UNAIDS released a new report concluding that, at the current rate of infection, there could be 45 million new cases of HIV by 2010. However, the report said that if a comprehensive set of measures were implemented immediately in the worst hit countries it would be able to prevent 29 million new infections.
The report, which surveyed 103 countries in their fight against HIV/AIDS, was released at a United Nations session on HIV/AIDS in New York. It found that although spending on HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment had doubled since 1999, there was still a vast gap in treatment.
“To deliver antiretroviral treatment to the millions who need it, we must change the way we think and change the way we act,” said Dr Jong-Wook Lee, WHO's director general.
Despite reduced prices, more funding, and a recent trade agreement to allow poor countries to import copies of patented drugs, only one million of some 5-6 million people with HIV/AIDS are expected to receive antiretrovirals by 2005.
At present only about 300 000 people in developing countries receive the drugs at all, and in sub-Saharan Africa, where 4.1 million people are infected, just over 1% or about 50 000 people had access to antiretroviral treatment at the end of 2002, the report said.