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A global coalition has been launched to increase access to antiretroviral drugs for AIDS patients around the world.

The International HIV Treatment Access Coalition brings together more than 50 non-governmental organisations, donors and governments, people living with HIV/AIDS, the private sector, and academic and research institutions.

It aims to galvanise efforts to increase the affordability, availability and uptake of those AIDS drugs that have led to dramatic reductions in HIV-related illness and death in the developed world, but that are still unavailable to 95 per cent of AIDS patients in poorer nations.

In particular, the coalition seeks to promote more efficient sharing of information about successful pilot programmes, establish reliable drug procurement systems, and train health-care workers. The group will also to coordinate donor action and provide technical assistance to national HIV treatment programmes.

"These drugs have saved hundreds of thousands of lives in Europe and the United States," said International AIDS Society president Joep Lange. "They could do the same for millions more in developing countries. If we can get cold Coca Cola and beer to every remote corner of Africa, it should not be impossible to do the same with drugs."

The coalition will have a small secretariat based at the headquarters of the World Health Organisation in Geneva.

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