U.N. sets out AIDS treatment plan to save 10 million

LONDON Tue Jul 13, 2010 1:16pm EDT

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

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 organizations are using it as a focus for new ideas on fighting the epidemic while funding is squeezed due to budget cuts.

"For countries to reach their universal access targets and commitments, we must reshape the AIDS response," UNAIDS director Michel Sidibe told reporters. "Through innovation we can bring down costs so investments can reach more people."

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 study 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.

A mathematical modeling 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.

"Not only could Treatment 2.0 save lives, it has the potential to give us a significant prevention dividend," Sidibe said.

(Editing by David Stamp)

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