The World Health Organisation and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS says that they are unlikely to reach their ambitious target of treating three million people with AIDS by the end of 2005.

In a statement released yesterday, the WHO and UNAIDS said that access to HIV treatment was continuing to accelerate in developing countries, but that a bottleneck was hindering progress. They explained that the so-called “3 by 5” target was intended as an interim step toward the goal of universal access to HIV treatment for those who need it [[23/09/03c]], and was based on what could be achieved if countries, donors, and international agencies were fully successful in expanding political will, mobilising funding resources, and building health infrastructure and systems. However, a report released yesterday showed that not all the prerequisites were fully in place.

“In the past 18 months, we’ve learned a tremendous amount about scaling up access to HIV treatment in even the poorest settings,” said Dr Jim Yong Kim, director of the WHO’s HIV/AIDS department. “Major concerns remain including more affordable drug prices and greater access to new drugs through exercising [trade-related intellectual property rights] flexibilities. But we’ve learned beyond any doubt that treatment in the developing world is feasible, effective, and increasingly affordable. We’ve also seen in every case that what underpins success is an essential combination of political, technical, and financial support, invested in a way that strengthens overall capacity to deliver essential health services.”

Nevertheless, their report shows that the number of people receiving anti-retroviral therapies is increasing in every region of the world, and the rate of scale-up is also accelerating. In sub-Saharan Africa, the region most severely affected by HIV, approximately 500,000 people are currently receiving ART – more than triple the number in June 2004, and nearly double the number just six months ago. Similarly, in Asia – the second most affected region – the number of people with access to ART has tripled since June 2004 to approximately 155,000.