As more than 20,000 people meet for the International AIDS Conference in Washington DC, important progress has been achieved in the fight against the epidemic in developing countries, while so much still needs to be done.
Breakthrough science last year showed that HIV treatment itself not only saves lives, but is an important way of preventing the spread of the virus: people taking antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) are 96 per cent less likely to pass the virus on. HIV treatment is HIV prevention.
By the end of 2011, eight million people were being reached with life-saving antiretroviral therapy in developing countries, which for the first time represents just over half the people in need of treatment. Still, nearly one in two people who urgently require HIV medicines can’t access them.
In the year 2000, treatment from an HIV drug cocktail cost more than $10,000 per person, per year, in some highly affected poor countries such as Thailand, South Africa and Cameroon. Since the, the price of treatment has come down by nearly 99 per cent, to roughly $120 per year. This was possible because the medicines needed to treat HIV were not patented in key countries that could produce more affordable generic versions, such as Brazil,Thailand and India.
India today provides more than 80 per cent of the ARVs used in donor-funded HIV/AIDS programmes globally. But increasingly, international trade rules and pressure from developed countries and their drug industries threaten to make patenting more widespread, which will in turn restrict the production of affordable generics. Today, the newest HIV medicines, which some people need because they have developed resistance to multiple drugs, cost nearly 15 times more than their first combination.