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International News

AIDS Programs Fail to Reach High-Risk Groups: UN

December 1, 2006

Those most at risk of acquiring HIV worldwide -- high-risk drug users, homosexuals and sex workers -- are often the least likely to be targeted by national surveillance, prevention and treatment programs, the World Health Organization said today. Only 1.6 million, or 24 percent, of 6.8 million people with HIV/AIDS worldwide who need antiretroviral (ARVs) drugs are receiving them, said Anders Nordstrom, WHO's acting director-general.

"We have a very long way to go still in the provision of medicines to those who need them," said Nordstrom. "HIV surveillance remains weak in almost all regions, particularly among marginalized groups. Those at highest risk -- men who have sex with men, sex workers and injecting drug users -- are not reliably reached through HIV prevention and treatment strategies."

As a consequence, those likeliest to become HIV-infected frequently do not know how to protect themselves, and they often lack access to condoms and clean syringes, said Nordstrom. "Even in countries where the epidemic has a very high impact, such as Swaziland and South Africa, a large proportion of the population do not believe they are at risk."

Governments have a responsibility to treat all people with AIDS and not subject patients needing ARVs to discrimination, Nordstrom said. "It means holding governments accountable for obligations of immediate effect, for example where scaling-up access [to ARVs] discriminates against a certain group, such as children, those involved in the sale of sexual services or injecting drug users," he said.

"Accountability -- the theme of this World AIDS Day -- requires every president and every prime minister, every parliamentarian and politician, to decide and declare that 'AIDS stops with me,'" said UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
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