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A Good Year in the Fight Against AIDS
Date:12/1/2009

Promising vaccine trial, better access to treatment worldwide provide reasons for hope

TUESDAY, Dec. 1 (HealthDay News) -- While the war against HIV/AIDS is still far from over, 2009 could prove to be a watershed year in terms of advances in prevention and treatment, experts say.

In fact, earlier this month a United Nations report found that the number of people infected with HIV globally has remained unchanged, at about 33 million, for the past two years, and may have peaked in the late 1990s.

Why the change? One big reason could be expanded access to antiretroviral drugs. A report released in October by the World Health Organization, UNICEF and UNAIDS found that 42 percent of people in the developing world who carry HIV now have access to life-extending medications. By the end of 2008, more than 4 million people worldwide were on antiretroviral medicines -- 2.9 million of them in sub-Saharan Africa, where the bulk of HIV-positive people live. That's a tenfold increase in access over the prior five years.

"I think this has come about through a number of organizations that have been trying to get drugs to be available to people in the developing world," said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. He especially credited the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), begun under the second Bush presidency, which he said "is responsible for over 2 million people being on therapy."

Other nonprofit groups -- most notably the Clinton Foundation and the Gates Foundation -- have also led the charge, helping to broker price-reduction schemes with pharmaceutical companies for the cheap distribution of AIDS drugs in poorer nations.

More widespread access to treatment may also pay dividends in prevention, one expert noted.

"I think this is an interesting story that's been emerging this year, as well -- the possibility that people w
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