Life-saving treatment for HIV over the last decade has let millions of people live longer, healthier lives. But access to this treatment is far from universal: of the 28.7 million people who need treatment urgently, 19 million still wait for access. Children and infants living with HIV are especially underserved, and suffer from a lack of medicines designed for their specific needs.
With new evidence that early treatment not only improves health but also prevents new infections, the world now has the tools at hand to turn the tide against HIV. We must use them.
On World AIDS Day, Dec. 1, the international community should remember commitments made at the United Nations High Level Meeting on AIDS in 2011 to accelerate access to HIV medicines and to facilitate the development of needed medicines for children.
The need for pediatric medicines is particularly acute. The vast majority of the 3.4 million children living with HIV reside in resource-poor settings, and as a result there is little market demand for making medicines suited to their needs.
Simplified, once-a-day treatments are desperately needed to treat young children who cannot take the same medicines developed for adults. Pediatric treatments available today can have a foul taste and a high alcohol content; this situation can and should be improved.
Two Geneva, Switzerland based groups -- UNITAID and the Medicines Patent Pool -- are working to address the needs of people living with HIV, including children.
UNITAID is an innovative financing mechanism that uses strategic market interventions to increase access to medicines for HIV, TB, and Malaria. A UNITAID-run programme to increase access to medicines for children has started over 400,000 children on treatment and reduced costs of these medicines by 80 percent. New grants made by UNITAID in 2012 to the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative will further this success.
The Medicines Patent Pool (MPP) aims to increase access to HIV medicines through the sharing of key HIV medicines patents. In 2013, it launched a collaboration with ViiV Healthcare -- a joint venture of GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer and Shionogi -- to facilitate the availability of needed medicines for children. Under the collaboration, one key pediatric HIV medicine recommended by the World Health Organization, abacavir, can be supplied in the 118 countries where 98.7 percent of children living with HIV reside, under a patent license. Also under the collaboration is a commitment to work together to ensure innovative new treatments for children are developed. Earlier agreements made between the MPP and Gilead Sciences are already making the WHO-preferred medicines for adults available to more people, at more affordable prices.
With 19 million people waiting urgently for the medicines they need to survive, the need for sustained financing of the HIV response has never been clearer. In addition to supporting strategic interventions such as the Medicines Patent Pool and UNITAID, it is also important that governments make strong commitments to replenishing key financing mechanisms such as the Global Fund. The Global Fund is calling for replenishment on Dec. 2-3, the international community should give generously.
My vision is for a World AIDS Day in the near future where we can say with pride that we have achieved universal access to treatment. This goal is within reach, but only by supporting important initiatives to make medicines available, appropriate, and affordable will we fully be able to grasp it.