The World Health Organization said today at the International AIDS Conference in Bangkok, Thailand, that the world has "failed miserably" in getting lifesaving drugs to millions afflicted with HIV.
Since the last AIDS conference in Barcelona in 2002, the number of people being treated for the disease has doubled in the developing world to 440,000. At the same time, 6 million people died from the virus and 10 million people became infected, WHO figures show.
"By these measures of human life, the ones that really matter, we have failed. And we have failed miserably to do enough in the precious time that has passed since Barcelona," said Jim Kim, WHO's AIDS director.
Cost is a key issue. European and U.S. pharmaceutical giants make most of the drugs, which are protected by patents and cost as much as $5,000 per person a year.
Developing countries such as Thailand, Brazil and India are making cheap generic drugs -- WHO put its seal of approval on four new generic Indian products Tuesday -- but there are not enough to reach everybody.
An estimated 38 million people are infected with HIV, mostly in poor countries: 25 million in sub-Saharan Africa and 7.2 million in Asia.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged Washington to show the same leadership in fighting AIDS as it has in fighting terrorism.
"We hear a lot about weapons of mass destruction, we hear a lot about terrorism. And we are worried about weapons of mass destruction because of the potential to kill thousands. Here we have an epidemic that is killing millions. What is the response?" Annan said in an interview with the British Broadcasting Corp. in Bangkok.
"We really do need a leadership. America has a natural leadership capacity because of its resources, because of its size," Annan said.