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Press release

UNICEF welcomes WHO's AIDS plan for developing world

Children’s Agency is Well-Positioned to Accelerate Initial Steps of Drug Delivery and Voluntary Counseling and Testing

Geneva / New York, 9 December 2003 – Welcoming WHO’s initiative to treat 3 million people living with AIDS with life-prolonging medicines by 2005, UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy said today that the children’s agency is uniquely well-positioned to help accelerate the effort.

“The WHO initiative will have a profound impact on children – both those living with HIV/AIDS and those who are seeing their parents, caregivers and teachers suffer and die from the disease,” Bellamy said.

“We are ready to ramp up our global supply network to get the drugs to those who need them most. And we will encourage more people -- especially women and their male partners through programmes to prevent HIV transmission from mothers to children -- to come forward for voluntary testing, counseling and, ultimately, treatment.”

UNICEF currently uses its global supply network to deliver anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs to 23 projects in Africa and Asia. The agency has also provided competitive cost estimates for ARV therapies to over 30 countries; and is actively offering assistance to all countries that require such procurement services.

However, the need for life-prolonging drugs to treat AIDS in developing countries continues to far exceed the available supply of ARVs. In sub-Saharan Africa, where an estimated 4.4 million of the 28 million people living with HIV/AIDS are currently in need of immediate treatment, only two per cent are getting it.

UNICEF said the increased availability of ARVs would bring a huge additional benefit: providing people with an incentive to get tested for HIV/AIDS. Despite the incredibly high prevalence of HIV in sub-Saharan Africa, only 10 per cent of people actually know their HIV status.

UNICEF noted that the effective targeting and delivery of ARV treatments to infected children and caregivers will require well-functioning health services – an area in which UNICEF and WHO already invest heavily. The initiative will also require the strengthening of countries’ current drug forecasting, procurement, supply management and distribution systems, which UNICEF said would ultimately help countries provide effective and affordable treatments for other child killers such as acute respiratory infections, diarrhea and malaria.   

Saving Mothers, Saving Children

UNICEF said the “3 by 5” initiative also gives pregnant women living with HIV/AIDS the chance to better protect their children and live long enough to see them grow. In 2003, 700,000 children under the age of 15 were infected with HIV. The vast majority -- 90 
percent -- contracted the disease from their mothers during pregnancy, birth, or breastfeeding.

If an HIV-positive woman becomes pregnant, there is a one-in-three chance that she will transmit the virus to her infant. But by taking anti-retroviral drugs in the final stage of pregnancy, a woman can reduce those chances by half.

UNICEF is already the leader in programmes to prevent the transmission of HIV/AIDS from mothers to infants. 17 of the 58 countries where UNICEF supports these programmes are in the process of expanding these services nationwide.

“When more pregnant women learn they have a chance of getting treated for HIV/AIDS, they are more likely to seek testing to learn their status,” Bellamy said. “This is critical to saving the lives of newborns.”

The “3 by 5” initiative offers UNICEF an opportunity to expand the care of children to include those with HIV/AIDS. UNICEF will work with countries to ensure that children living with HIV/AIDS have access to comprehensive care services, including ARV treatment.

“3 by 5” also supports UNICEF’s ongoing efforts to slow the rate at which children are being orphaned by AIDS, and to assist the 14 million who have already lost one or both parents to the disease.

“The longer parents stay alive, the greater their children’s chances of surviving and thriving themselves,” Bellamy said. “Every year of continued parenting has a profound affect on a child’s future well-being.”

In the U.S., the introduction of triple combination ARV therapy in 1996 led to a 70 percent decline in deaths attributable to HIV/AIDS.


For more information please contact:

Liza Barrie, UNICEF New York,
(212) 326 7593; lbarrie@unicef.org

Wivina Belmonte, UNICEF Geneva,
(41-22) 909 5712; wbelmonte@unicef.org

Marc Vergara, UNICEF Geneva,
(41-22) 909 5718; mvergara@unicef.org




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