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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Costs of Treatment for Poor Top Agenda of AIDS Forum

WASHINGTON -- The last few months have brought gratifying advances in fighting the virus that causes AIDS, but the hefty price tags raise disturbing questions about who will have access to the life-prolonging therapies.

The new drug regimes can cost $12,000 to $16,000 a year -- and nobody yet knows how many years people will have to take the drugs or at what dosage.

For a middle-income person in a rich country, $16,000 is a lot to spend on medicine each year. For a poor person in an impoverished country, it is not even within the realm of imagination.

"There are new drugs, but they are expensive, and a majority [of people around the world] won't have access to them at this time," said Dr. Daniel Tarantola, an AIDS expert at the Center for Health and Human Rights at the Harvard School of Public Health, one of thousands of experts grappling with these issues next week at the 11th International Conference on AIDS in Vancouver, British Columbia.

"I hope at some point there can be a little bit of innovation in how drugs are delivered" to poor nations, said Timothy Rothermel of the UN Development Program, one of several agencies co-sponsoring UNAIDS, aimed at addressing the epidemic's spread.

Globally, the best way to fight AIDS will be a vaccine. But despite recent advances in the lab and in the clinic, a vaccine still appears to be a long way off.

Until then, prevention and public health education remain the only weapons. And in nations that can scarcely afford an aspirin tablet, paying for ambitious prevention campaigns is a difficult task, according to numerous researchers and health policy experts interviewed recently.

Recognizing AIDS as both a health and an economic development issue, the World Bank has also committed a total of nearly $700 million to more than 60 projects around the world aimed at stopping the spread of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.

Fifteen years into the epidemic, around 21 million people around the world carry the HIV virus.