2 June 2008The close of 2007 witnessed almost 3 million people in low- and middle-income countries receiving anti-retroviral (ART) treatment, but nearly twice that number still require life-saving medicines, according to a new United Nations study released today. The report, entitled “Towards Universal Access: Scaling Up Priority HIV/AIDS Interventions in the Health Sector,” noted that almost one-third of the estimated 9.7 million people in need of ART received it by the end of 2007, leaving nearly 7 million without access. A joint effort by the UN World Health Organization (WHO), the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the study also pointed to other progress, such as improved access to interventions to prevent mother-to-child HIV transmission, increased testing and counseling and stepped up commitment to male circumcision in heavily-affected areas in sub-Saharan Africa. “This represents a remarkable achievement for public health,” says WHO Director-General Margaret Chan. “This proves that, with commitment and determination, all obstacles can be overcome. People living in resource-constrained settings can indeed be brought back to economically and socially productive lives by these drugs.” The 3 million target, though originally intended to be achieved by 2005, was achieved due to enhanced availability of ART largely as a result of price reductions, boosted delivery systems and increased demand for the treatment. By the end of last year, almost half a million women – up from 350,000 in 2006 – had received ART to prevent the transmission of HIV to their unborn children. Meanwhile, 200,000 children had access to the treatment, compared to 127,000 at the close of 2006. “We are seeing encouraging progress in prevention of HIV transmission from mother to newborn,” said UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman, adding that the report should spur increased action to help children and families affected by HIV/AIDS. Among the obstacles to treatment cited by the study are poor patient retention rates and large numbers of people unaware of their HIV status. Tuberculosis is one of the leading causes of death among those living with HIV, and the number one cause in Africa. Currently, the report warned that HIV and tuberculosis treatments are not sufficiently integrated, and many die as a result of not being able to access medicines to treat both diseases.