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[NEW DELHI] A strategy to make anti-AIDS drugs available to three million people across the globe by 2005 was unveiled today by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).

The so-called ‘3 by 5’ initiative, launched as part of World AIDS Day, aims to simplify AIDS drug regimens, help poor countries gain access to medicines and diagnostic tools at the best prices, and train large numbers of health workers. WHO estimates that US$5.5 billion will be needed over the next two years to fund the initiative.

“Preventing and treating AIDS may be the toughest health assignment the world has ever faced, but it is also the most urgent,” says Lee Jong-Wook, director-general of the WHO. “The lives of millions of people are at stake. This strategy demands massive and unconventional efforts to make sure they stay alive.”

The WHO estimates that although 6 million people in the developing world are in immediate need of antiretroviral drugs, only 400,000 are receiving them. A report released last week revealed that 42 million people around the world are infected today, and warned that Asia is at particular risk of a new epidemic (see HIV epidemic threatens Asia).

In a bid to simplify AIDS treatment, the strategy has slashed the number of WHO-recommended drug regimens from 35 to four. It also recommends the use of ‘fixed dose combinations’ or easy-to-use packs of medicine whenever they are available.

The strategy aims to make testing easier by promoting the use of body weight and colour-scale blood tests where more complicated and expensive tests for viral load and white blood cell count are not yet available. It will also see expert teams help governments to identify and remove obstacles to drug provision, so that antiretroviral drugs can be provided quickly to those who need them most.

“We know what to do, but what we urgently need now are the resources to do it,” says Lee. “We must waste no time in building strong alliances immediately to implement this strategy. Three million people are counting on it.”

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