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AIDS group fears annual HIV costs may hit $35 bln

AIDS/HIVJul 20, 10

The International HIV/AIDS Alliance warned on Saturday that the annual cost of tackling the HIV epidemic could balloon to $35 billion by 2030 if governments fail to invest in efficient, targeted and cost-effective prevention measures.

The Alliance said the AIDS virus, which already infects around 33.4 million people across the world, was a “costly time-bomb” for families, governments and donors.

“For every two people who get treatment, five others get infected. At this rate, spending for HIV will rise from $13 billion now to between $19 and $35 billion in just 20 years time,” Alvaro Bermejo, executive director of the Alliance, said in a statement.

International AIDS Alliance brings together AIDS charities and advocacy groups from across the world.

Bermejo said authorities running national AIDS programmes around the world needed to increase HIV prevention by tackling the barriers that stop marginalised groups - such as drugs users, prostitutes and gay men in some countries - from getting HIV treatment and services.

If they targeted resources at those most affected they could “cut more new infections and still have savings to put into scaling up treatment”, he said.

The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that causes AIDS is transmitted during sex, in blood and on needles and in breast milk. It gradually wears down the immune system and can take years to cause symptoms, and has killed 25 million people since the pandemic began in the early 1980s.

The Alliance said its workers had seen how drug users in Ukraine are harassed when trying to get drug substitution therapy, and how doctors prescribing substitutes for them are jailed.

In Africa - the region most heavily affected by HIV, accounting for 67 percent of all people living with the virus - its staff were seeing an increasing trend to criminalise men who have sex with men in countries such as Uganda and Malawi, it said.

Measures such as offering clean needles or drug substitutes to injecting drug addicts and providing HIV testing and advice services to them can help to reduce the spread of the AIDS virus. Ukraine has one of the world’s fastest growing HIV epidemics, mostly due to infection among drug users.

Treating those with HIV with cocktails of AIDS drugs can also help to stop more people from getting infected, but AIDS treatment programmes in developing countries are struggling to get the funding they need as wealthy donor nations cut budgets to reduce deficits following the global recession.

Bermejo said the cost-effectiveness and efficiency of prevention programmes for those at most vulnerable to HIV “are too often hindered by repressive laws, policies, human rights violations and discrimination and exclusion”.

He said HIV prevention steps should be taken as well as, and not instead of treatment services.

Latest data from 2008 showed the annual number of new HIV infections was 2.7 million, the same as in 2007. This is down from 3.0 million in 2001.

By Kate Kelland

LONDON (Reuters)

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