Tuesday, June 3, 2008

HIV Drugs Yet To Reach Over 6.7 Million!

According to the latest progress report published by the by the World Health Organization (WHO), UNAIDS and UNICEF, about 3 million people in low and middle income countries have access to antiretroviral therapy (ART) drugs for HIV/AIDS, but 6.7 million are yet to get them.

Encouragingly, the number of people who now get HIV drugs is nearly is seven times higher than what it was four years ago. Furthermore, a larger number of women now get the life saving HIV drugs and are better equipped to prevent infecting their children during pregnancy.

Although the report brings up the good news of the progress made, it needs to be noted that the efforts to provide access of HIV drugs to 3 million people have lagged behind by two years. The initiative to accomplish this target is known as the “3 by 5” initiative, or to have 3 million individuals on treatment by 2005, hence it's late by 2 years.

Accomplishments aside, the report estimated that there were 9.7 million people who needed antiretrovirals at the end of 2007. Consequently with an estimated 3 million (or 31% of all the infected) already covered, the products HIV drug manufacturers still need to reach 6.7 million individuals (or 69%), who're in dire need of them. Not only are these drugs are to reach the remaining infected persons, but they also need to reach them fast, the press release states that, “In 2007, that target was achieved a scant two years after the 2005 deadline. Not only has the number of people receiving treatment increased dramatically, but the pace of scale-up has also accelerated.”

The reasons attributed to the progress are three fold:
  1. Availability of drugs mostly due to lower HIV drug prices.
  2. Better delivery due to simpler, standardized regimens, decentralized services, better staffing and lab resourcing.
  3. Greater number of diagnosed cases of HIV leading to a higher demand for drugs.
The Role Of The Pharmaceutical/Healthcare Industry

Amidst projections that the demand for HIV drugs would grow at a rate of over 10% till 2012, and that there are still 6.7 million people to be provided with HIV drugs, there isn't much to doubt that the market potential for the industry is quite large. Further, given the rise and spread of HIV infections, pharma companies have a big role to play and synchronize the objectives of achieving profitability for their businesses with the responsibility to help combat the infections. In 2007 alone an estimated 2.5 million people were newly infected with HIV.

Based on the report, it appears that the pharma and healthcare industry needs to devise pharmaceutical drugs, medical instruments and services on the following lines to effectively address the needs.
  1. Bring out cheaper drugs, as most of the demand exists in developing countries.
  2. Come up with drugs requiring simpler compliance regimens.
  3. Formulate more drugs to prevent mother-to-child infections during pregnancy.
  4. Improve integration of HIV and TB treatments.
  5. Reach out to high risk groups viz. sex workers, (IV) drug users, prisoners.
  6. Innovate preventive measures/products for HIV and other STDs.
  7. Promote of easier, faster, economical diagnostic tests, so that people can know their HIV status and know that much quicker.
  8. Improve retention in treatment programs and devise better patient monitoring systems.
  9. Bridge the manpower shortage for trained health workers.
  10. Build effective procurement/supply management systems.
  11. Achieve improved collection, analysis and communication of essential health information viz. descriptive epidemiology, HIV incidence, prevalence, etc.
With the industry, governments and public coming together to combat HIV, the next progress report could make everyone even prouder.

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