UNAIDS is urging countries of the world to rapidly scale up access to antiretroviral (ARVs) medicines to maximise HIV treatment and prevention gains.
Through a framework entitled: “Treatment 2015”, UNAIDS offers countries and partners both practical and innovative ways to increase the number of people accessing ARV drugs in order to reach its target of 15 million people on treatment by 2015.
Treatment 2015 outlines three fundamental pillars essential to reaching the 2015 target ‑ increasing demand for HIV testing and treatment services; mobilising resources and improving the efficiency and effectiveness of spending; and ensuring more people have access to anti-retroviral therapy.
The framework points out that countries and partners need to urgently and strategically invest resources and efforts to ensure that everyone has access to HIV prevention and treatment services.
The report adds that treatment will not only enable people living with virus to live longer and healthier, they will also help prevent new HIV infections.
UNAIDS notes that there are countries which account for 9 out of 10 people who are eligible for anti-retroviral therapy but who do not have access.
SADC region has enjoyed a significant decline in AIDS mortality. The number of AIDS-related deaths, which was frighteningly 1.8 million in 2005, dropped to 1.2 million in 2011. So has morbidity. All this is good news, and the success stories are largely attributable to the rapid expansion of ART.
In Southern Africa, where most countries are badly affected by HIV – new incidences of HIV have been dramatically reduced.
For instance between 2001 and 2011, in Malawi, the rate of new HIV infections dropped by 73 percent, in Botswana by 71 percent, in Namibia by 68 percent, in Zambia by 58 percent and in Zimbabwe by 50 percent.
South Africa, the country with the largest number of HIV infections, reduced new HIV infections by 41 percent while Swaziland, which has the highest HIV prevalence in the world, new HIV infections dropped by 37 percent.
The UN agency stressed that intensive focus on scaling up HIV services in those countries would have a significant impact on the trajectory of the global AIDS epidemic.
The framework also calls for all countries to use the best available data to identify key geographical settings and populations with high HIV prevalence and disproportionate need for anti-retroviral therapy.
Through Treatment 2015, UNAIDS encourages countries to enhance public health programmes and leverage services provided by civil society and community based groups.
It outlines that community health workers have the capacity to provide almost 40 percent of HIV service-related tasks and that HIV testing and treatment services need to be decentralised to promote easier access.
The framework also underscores the need to ensure that underserved key populations have equitable access to HIV testing and treatment services.
Treatment 2015 also takes into account the new Consolidated Guidelines on the use of Antiretroviral Drugs for Treating and Preventing HIV Infection, released recently by the World Health Organisation (WHO) that encourage people living with HIV to start anti-retroviral therapy (ART) much earlier.
Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General of WHO, was quoted in the Treatment 2015 report saying that the scale up of ART is an unprecedented global success story for public health. Maintaining this momentum would require earlier treatment and innovative ways for enabling more people to take the medicine such as the one-pill daily regimen recommended by the new WHO guidelines.
"Substantial further scale-up of access to these medicines provides us with a unique opportunity to push this epidemic into irreversible decline," she said.
In addition, Treatment 2015 further emphasises the importance of HIV testing and counselling as a gateway to expanding access to ART and that further efforts are required to normalise HIV testing.
It highlights that community testing campaigns have proven to be particularly effective in Kenya, Malawi, South Africa, Uganda, the United Republic of Tanzania and Zambia.
"We have to work hard to defeat HIV and end it as a public health threat, and it will require concerted effort from all partners to get there,” the report recommends.