By Peter Capella
GENEVA (AFP) - UN agencies warned on Friday that the world will fail to meet an end-2010 deadline for "universal" access to HIV/AIDS care and treatment, while new crisis-driven funding cuts could unravel any gains.
The World Health Organisation, UNAIDS, and the UN Children's Fund UNICEF said in a joint report that the target of universal access - defined as access for 80 percent of the HIV positive population - to prevention, treatment and care was within "clear reach" for "a good number of countries."
"Nevertheless, this report also demonstrates that, on a global scale, targets for universal access to HIV prevention, treatment and care will not be met by 2010," the report said.
Despite accelerating progress, the report covering 183 nations underlined that only one-third of those in need worldwide have access to life-saving anti-retroviral drugs to counter the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that causes AIDS.
Some 5.2 million people received such treatment last year in low to middle income countries, the key battleground for the fight against the near three decades old pandemic with the highest burden of the disease.
That marked a 30 percent increase over a year earlier and a 13-fold increase in six years, but another 10 million people approximately did not have such treatment in those countries.
Only eight middle to low income nations - including Cambodia, Cuba and Rwanda - had achieved the treatment target by the end of 2009, it found.
The agencies spearheading the fight against HIV/AIDS underlined that the scale of prevention measures was still insufficient, four years after the UN's member states set the broad 2010 access target.
"It's unacceptable that 7,000 people a day are dying of a chronic, treatable illness," added Kevin Moody of the Global Network of People Living with AIDS.
The report also estimated that most people with HIV were still unaware that they were infected - about 60 percent of people in low and middle income countries, WHO HIV/AIDS coordinator Yves Souteyrand told journalists.
The most vulnerable, including those with HIV, sex workers, drug users, men with a homosexual experience and migrants were still victims of stigma and discrimination, adding to their marginalisation from treatment and care, the report argued.
"At the same time, the financial crisis and resulting economic recession have prompted some countries to reassess their commitments to HIV programmes," it added.
Reduced funding "risks undoing the gains of the past years," said the heads of the agencies, including WHO Director General Margaret Chan, amid warnings that the effort was 10 billion dollars short last year.
More than 33 million people around the world have HIV, according to most recent UN estimates for 2008.
The report nonetheless highlighted patchy progress in 144 low and middle income countries, with "significant" inroads in several impoverished and hardest hit sub-Saharan African countries.
More than 80 percent of HIV positive pregnant women received services and medicines to prevent mother-to-child transmission in 15 such nations, including Botswana and South Africa.
Fourteen countries, including Brazil, Namibia and Ukraine, provided HIV treatment for children in need.
"We are on the right track, we've shown what works and now we need to do more of it," said Paul De Lay, deputy executive director of UNAIDS.
In 2003, the WHO and UNAIDS set a similar target with the "Three by Five" initiative, which aimed to give three million infected people in poor countries access to anti-HIV drugs by the end of 2005.
It also missed, some 1.7 million short, although the WHO said the goal was fulfilled by 2007 after initially helping to triple the number of people on antiretrovirals.
Wednesday's report urged more political pledges and funding, as agency officials set their sights on universal access in 2015.