HIV/AIDS - 10 stories that mattered in access to medicines in 2011

“There is now hope down the line. Today we know that if all those who need treatment get it, earlier, we can decrease new infections to such a point that we can push back on this epidemic. That is incredibly exciting if we get the means to do it…..”
- Dr. Gilles VAN CUTSEM, MSF Medical Coordinator, South Africa and Lesotho

Getting ahead of the wave of new HIV infections to turn the tide on AIDS

Three decades into the HIV/AIDS pandemic, and after 30 million deaths, landmark scientific findings this year show that providing people with HIV treatment early not only saves their lives but can reduce the risk of transmitting the virus to others by 96 percent – in effect demonstrating that early treatment of HIV is also prevention.  

The question now therefore is how to make expansion of treatment both feasible and affordable -- a challenge MSF has been grappling with in its projects since beginning to treat HIV in developing countries more than ten years ago.

MSF has learned, through experience, how care can reach more people in resource-limited settings – for example by decentralising treatment from central hospitals to health centres and to community health posts, so it is available closer to where people live, and by shifting medical tasks from doctors to nurses, and in turn to community health workers, to overcome human resource shortages.

Ensuring treatment is affordable is equally critical – competition among generic producers is what has brought prices for HIV medicines down by more than 99 percent over the last decade. But more must be done to rein in drug prices, particularly for newer medicines.

Governments committed at the UN in June to reach 15 million people with HIV treatment by 2015. The US government also committed to nearly doubling the pace over the next two years at which it enrols people on treatment through its international AIDS treatment funding programme.

If treatment is expanded to all in need by 2015, UNAIDS estimates more than seven million deaths and 12 million new infections could be averted by 2020.

But the fact is that still only half of those in urgent need of treatment have access to it, and recent dramatic funding shortfalls put the goal of an AIDS-free future further out of reach.

Without solid financial backing to the political commitments set out this year, we will not be able to capitalise on recent scientific advances and stop the epidemic in its tracks.