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Early diagnosis could cut HIV by 95 per cent

The United Nations is calling for international funding to allow for early testing and intervention to save the lives of infants exposed to HIV in low income countries

World Aids Day ribbonOn the 20th World Aids Day, the United Nations is calling for international funding to allow for early testing and intervention to save the lives of infants exposed to HIV in low income countries.

Current procedures mean babies aren't tested until they are 18 months old, however, newer technology now makes it possible to test babies from 6 weeks old, This means that infants could receive antiretroviral drugs sooner and have a greater chance of surviving.

UNICEF UK's chief executive David Bull said: "Without treatment, half of all children with HIV will die by their second birthday. But if they are diagnosed and put on treatment within their first 12 weeks of life, survival rates are 75 per cent higher. Early diagnosis can save lives."

"UNICEF UK is calling on the UK government, directly and through its influence in the international community, to work to ensure that every infant exposed to HIV is diagnosed and put on treatment as early as possible. Early infant diagnosis is a lifesaving and cost effective intervention which needs to be scaled up urgently, within the wider goal of reaching universal access to treatment, prevention, care and protection for all by 2010."

UK action
In June 2008, Douglas Alexander, secretary of state for international development launched the updated AIDS strategy and announced plans to spend £6 billion on strengthening health systems and services to 2015.

The strategy makes clear the UK's commitment to playing a leadership role: assisting developing countries reach the goals of Universal Access and halting and reversing the spread of HIV.

The strategy includes targets on social protection, vaccines and microbicides research. It sets a number of outcome targets, including family planning, prevention of mother to child transmission, harm reduction, access to AIDS treatment and aid effectiveness.

In the UK, the number of deaths among HIV-infected persons has remained stable over the past ten years and the number of AID diagnoses has continued to decline. These numbers could be reduced further with earlier diagnosis and initiation of treatment. In 2007, 31 per cent of adults with HIV were diagnosed late with the largest group (42 per cent) being heterosexual men followed by heterosexual women (36 per cent) and men who have sex with men (19 per cent).

2nd December 2008

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