AFRICA: International coalition on antiretrovirals launched

An international coalition to expand access to antiretroviral drugs in developing countries was launched on Thursday by the World Health Organisation (WHO), UNAIDS and more than 50 other institutions.

Only about 300,000 people living with HIV/AIDS in poor and middle-income countries - 5 percent of those who need antiretrovirals (ARVs) - are now using the drugs, WHO said. Despite the figures, WHO pointed to "growing commitment" in the region "to provide access to ARVs through the public sector."

The International HIV Treatment Access Coalition (ITAC) has been set up to try to tackle these inequalities. The coalition will focus on information sharing, drug procurement, health care training, donor coordination and technical assistance to national HIV/AIDS treatment programmes.

"Although they are not a cure, ARVs inhibit replication of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, and boost the immune system’s ability to fight infections. In all countries where ARVs have become widely available to people living with HIV/AIDS since 1996, they have led to a dramatic reduction in HIV-related illness and death, WHO said in a statement.

WHO Director-General Gro Harlem Brundtland said: "Does anyone deserve to be sentenced to certain death because she or he cannot access care that costs less than US $2 a day? Is anyone’s life worth so little? Should any family become destitute as a result? Should children be orphaned? The answers must be no, no, no and no."

For more information about the Coalition www.itacoalition.org