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Few poor pregnant women getting AIDS drugs

Nearly 2,000 babies are born every day with HIV because their virus-infected mothers do not get the treatment needed to stop transmission, a new U.N. report finds.
HIV-positive Sibongile Dlamini, 41, rests under a tree in Siteki, Swaziland, with her six-week-old baby.Alexander Joe / AFP - Getty Images file
/ Source: Reuters

Nearly 2,000 babies are born every day with HIV because their virus-infected mothers do not get the treatment needed to stop transmission, the World Health Organization said on Tuesday.

The WHO said fewer than 10 percent of HIV-positive women in developing countries got antiretroviral therapy during pregnancy and childbirth between 2003 and 2005 despite a tripling of overall access to the drugs in that period.

“Each year, over 570,000 children under the age of 15 die of AIDS, most having acquired HIV from their mothers,” the U.N. health agency said in a report showing it fell short of a “3 by 5” goal of getting 3 million people on antiretrovirals by 2005.

By the end of last year, only 1.3 million people with the immune-suppressing virus in poor countries had access to the drugs — less than half the number targeted by the WHO in 2003.

The report, released with the Joint U.N. Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), said 660,000 children under the age of 15 were in immediate need of antiretroviral therapy in 2005.

Most of those live in sub-Saharan Africa, the region most affected by HIV and AIDS, where only 17 percent of sufferers had access to the life-saving drugs last year.

“Misinformation about the disease and stigma against living with HIV still hamper prevention, care and treatment efforts everywhere,” UNAIDS Executive Director Peter Piot said.

Ineffective partnerships among aid providers, inadequate supplies of drugs and weak health systems were also cited in the report as factors behind the missed target.

Though overall progress was less ambitious than first hoped, antiretroviral drug access improved across the world since the WHO and UNAIDS launched the initiative in December 2003.

About 50,000 new people began antiretroviral therapy each month in the past year, the report said, estimating that 250,000 to 350,000 premature deaths have been averted in developing countries as a result of expanded treatment access.

Global AIDS expenditures rose to $8.3 billion in 2005 from $4.7 billion in 2003, the report said, with much funding coming from the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, and the World Bank.

During the same period, the price of first-line treatment decreased by between 37 percent and 53 percent, depending on the drug regimen used, the report said.

The Group of Eight rich nations pledged in July 2005 to work with WHO and UNAIDS to move as close as possible to universal treatment access by 2010.

The report said that goal ought to be attainable, but warned substantially more funds would be needed.

According to UNAIDS, there is a $18 billion gap for the 2005-2007 period between available and needed resources. By 2008, it said at least $22 billion per year will be needed to fund national HIV prevention, treatment and care programs.