WHO boss says major milestone reached in fight against AIDS

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Dr. Margaret Chan, WHO Director-General says a major milestone in the long struggle against HIV/AIDS has been reached.

This year is the 20th anniversary of the emergence of the devastating disease and Dr. Chan says more than 3 million people in low and middle-income countries are now receiving life-prolonging antiretroviral therapy - an achievement which was unthinkable 20 years ago.

At that time the significance and impact of the disease was just being realised along with its catastrophic effect on society.

Dr. Chan says AIDS remains the most challenging and probably the most devastating infectious disease humanity has ever had to face but the international community has rallied in order to deal with it. She says the response to AIDS changed the face of public health in profound ways by opening new options for dealing with multiple other health problems.

The disease and the needs of those affected was brought to the forefront of world attention, attitudes changed, treatments developed, clinical schedules were streamlined and standardized, funds were found, prices dropped, partnerships formed, and presidents and prime ministers launched emergency plans and Dr. Chan says the response reaffirmed some of the most important values and principles of public health.

According to Dr. Chan the AIDS epidemic showed the relevance of equity and universal access of antiretroviral therapy and an ability to access medicines and services became equivalent to an ability to survive for many millions of people.

She says the epidemic focused attention on the broad social determinants of health, the vital role of prevention, and the need for people-centred care and also helped pave the way for a renewal of primary health care.

Dr. Chan calls for leadership to ensure that vigilance and diligence in responding to the epidemic remains steadfast, despite the global financial crisis, to ensure that the current unprecedented rollout of treatment reaches more people and is fully sustainable and she says slowing down on treatment is not an acceptable option on ethical and humanitarian grounds.

Dr. Chan says much more must be done to empower adolescent girls and women, both to protect themselves and to act as agents of change and to fight stigma and discrimination, which occurs in many countries.

Legal as well as social and cultural barriers prevent groups at risk from receiving the interventions must be breached and the knowledge needed to reduce harmful behaviours spread and countries with weak health systems must be supported.

Dr. Chan has called for a redoubling of the determination to defeat the remaining obstacles for the sake of human dignity.


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