[Ip-health] MSF: Access to HIV treatment must speed up to match political promises

Joanna Keenan-Siciliano joanna.l.keenan at gmail.com
Mon Nov 21 01:23:42 PST 2011

With the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria meeting today in Ghana,
and the release of UNAIDS' latest epidemic report in Berlin also today,
Medecins Sans Frontieres has issued the below press release urging donors
to continue to fund the fight against the disease.

Access to HIV treatment must speed up to match political promises

Latest UNAIDS treatment numbers show progress, but funding crunch is major

Geneva, 21 November 2011 – The growing number of averted HIV/AIDS deaths
according to data released by UNAIDS represents important progress, but the
number of people put on treatment must increase dramatically in order to
reap the benefits of the new science showing that HIV treatment both saves
lives and helps prevent new infections, the international medical
humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) said today. This
will require significant additional funding for HIV treatment, yet, as the
Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria’s Board meeting opens today in
Accra, Ghana, AIDS funding has now declined for two years in a row.

In 2011, landmark research showed that a person starting HIV treatment
early is 96 percent less likely to pass the virus on to others. This year
also brought increased political commitment. The US has just announced its
goal of “turning the tide on AIDS,” a declaration once unimaginable as
official US policy. Governments in June committed to reaching 15 million
people with HIV treatment by 2015 with the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB
and Malaria poised to agree to help pay for half of that target.

With treatment scale up now under increasing threat, MSF calls on donor and
affected governments alike to ensure this plan to roll out benefits from
treatment acceleration become a reality. But the funding needed to turn
this year’s scientific and political breakthroughs into increased access to
treatment for millions of people, is severely lacking, with the Global Fund
now forced to skip a year of funding new proposals for the first time since
it was created in 2002.

“Never, in more than a decade of treating people living with HIV/AIDS, have
we been at such a promising moment to really turn this epidemic around,”
said Dr. Tido von Schoen-Angerer, Executive Director of MSF’s Access
Campaign. “Governments in some of the hardest hit countries want to act on
the science, seize this moment and reverse the AIDS epidemic. But this
means nothing if there’s no money to make it happen.”

In several countries where MSF works - such as Malawi, Zambia, Kenya and
South Africa - governments are seeking to implement ambitious national HIV
treatment plans by incorporating ‘accelerated treatment’ components such as
initiation of treatment for people at an earlier stage of the disease,
immediate initiation of treatment for HIV-positive people with HIV-negative
partners; and immediate initiation of life-long treatment for HIV-positive
expectant mothers.

But without increased funding, opportunities to prevent the spread of
infection are being missed and there is a real risk of going backwards. The
Global Fund's budget shortfall this year and next means ambitious country
proposals to save more lives and greatly reduce new infections cannot be
funded. MSF witnesses how even existing national treatment programs are now
under threat of being severely curtailed in countries such as Zimbabwe,
Mozambique and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

MSF calls on the Global Fund not to further delay, downsize, or cap its
newest round of funding applications. Donors and the Fund should raise the
funding necessary to cover the costs of quality proposals, in order to
enable countries to realise priority interventions that will have the
highest impact on the epidemic.

“Right now, we’re in an absurd situation where the signposts all point in
one direction to get a handle on HIV/AIDS, yet the funding crunch is
pulling us the opposite way,” said Shelagh Woods, Head of MSF's project in
rural Malawi. “We have to act fast and reach as many people as possible to
save lives and avoid slipping back, but countries can't do this alone.”

MSF began treating HIV/AIDS in 2000 and currently provides HIV treatment to
170,000 people in 19 countries.  In line with the new evidence, MSF has
just opened a pilot project in South Africa’s KwaZulu Natal province, which
has the country’s highest infection rate, with an aim to reduce infections
among the whole community through testing and accelerated treatment, along
with conventional prevention.

To read MSF’s June 2011 report, Getting Ahead of the Wave of New Infections
– Lessons for the Next Decade of the AIDS response , visit www.msfaccess.org

Joanna Keenan
Press Officer
Access Campaign
Medecins Sans Frontieres
E: joanna.keenan[at]geneva.msf.org
T: @joanna_keenan


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