UN: Ambitious HIV Plan On Track

AIDS, medication, ribbon,
The U.N. health agency said Wednesday it believes it will achieve its ambitious plan to get 3 million people infected with HIV onto anti-retroviral drugs by 2005.

The target is likely to be reached, thanks to global campaigns and work by individual countries, said Alex Ross, chief of staff of the World Health Organization group that deals with HIV/AIDS.

"When you add it all up, you quickly get to the point of having 3 million people," Ross said.

The "3 by 5" project was announced by WHO Director-General Lee Jong-wook when he took office last year, as part of a global campaign to halt the spread of AIDS.

The U.N.-led Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria announced Wednesday that it has approved grants worth $2.9 billion over five years.

The grants — the fourth set of projects approved by the fund — will put another 932,000 people onto anti-retroviral treatments, bringing the total for the fund to 1.6 million people.

The United States already has announced separate plans to treat 2 million people by 2007, and a number of other agencies also have treatment projects.

More than 40 million people worldwide are infected with HIV, and more than 3 million died last year. Widespread use of anti-retroviral treatments in industrialized countries has reduced AIDS deaths by 70 percent.

WHO estimates more than 5 million HIV patients need anti-retroviral drugs, but before the latest push started, less than 300,000 had access to them.

The Global Fund's new grants also will finance 123 million anti-malaria treatments and provide 44 million bed nets treated with insecticide, which experts say reduce malaria among children by a quarter. Some 640,000 tuberculosis sufferers will receive treatment under the grants. Nearly 70 percent of the money will go to Africa.

The fund — which was set up in 2002 on the initiative of the Group of Eight wealthy nations and Russia — has so far provided US$3 billion for 310 projects in 129 countries.

But it still needs to keep campaigning for money if it is to continue its work, said Christoph Benn, the fund's external relations director.

"This week we can afford to be happy. Next week we have to start mobilizing more resources again," he told reporters. "We will need US$2.3 billion next year."

By Naomi Koppel