25 January 2019 | Statements

Unitaid launches initiative to avert deaths from advanced HIV

Geneva – Unitaid is investing US$ 20 million in measures to avert hundreds of thousands of preventable deaths among people with advanced HIV.

The initiative seeks to forge a more effective global response to diagnosing and treating people whose immune systems are so weakened by HIV that they are at risk of infection by other life-threatening diseases.

The grant, to be implemented by Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI), will help make new, WHO-recommended medicines and testing tools affordable and available in lower-income countries.

“This promises to be an enormous benefit not only to individuals, but to the global HIV response,” Unitaid Executive Director Lelio Marmora said. “Addressing advanced HIV could prevent four out of ten HIV-related deaths every year.”

The intention is to create a model for tackling advanced HIV that can be scaled up by national governments and funding partners such as the Global Fund and Pepfar.

The new investment builds on Unitaid’s 2016-2019 work with CHAI to expand access to the best available antiretrovirals.

The HIV virus weakens the immune system, increasing the risk of dangerous infection by bacteria, viruses and fungi. A person is said to have advanced HIV disease when his or her immune system can no longer fight off these opportunistic infections.

“Millions of lives have been saved by greater access to antiretroviral therapy, but many people with advanced HIV are still at risk of dying,” said Peter Sands, Executive Director of the Global Fund. “By taking on this challenge together, we can move toward our common goal of ending HIV.”

A third of the people who begin HIV treatment get started so late that they already have very weakened immune systems. They are at risk of death even after getting on antiretrovirals, the medicine used to suppress the virus.

Extraordinary progress has been made over the past two decades in expanding access to treatment for HIV and encouraging people to test and begin treatment earlier.  However, deaths from HIV-related diseases have not decreased as much as expected; they stand at about one million annually.

Tuberculosis is the leading cause of death among people living with HIV, claiming 300,000 lives in 2017. About 180,000 people with HIV die every year from cryptococcal meningitis, a fungal infection of the lining of the brain and spinal cord.

Last year, Unitaid secured two landmark agreements to improve treatment for those with advanced HIV disease: An agreement with the Indian drug manufacturer Cipla Ltd. lowered the price of an innovative combination therapy for co-infections including TB, and an agreement with Gilead Science reduced the price of a more tolerable formulation of AmBisome®, a drug for cryptococcal meningitis. Lower prices will allow more people to access treatment for these life-threatening infections.

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