In 2002, when President Clinton began working to address the HIV/AIDS crisis in the developing world, only 200,000 people in low and middle income countries were receiving treatment, at average costs of more than $10,000 per person, per year.
Over the past 10 years, the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI) has been negotiating with drug companies and governments to lower the cost of HIV/AIDS medicines – work that has dramatically changed the economics of care in the developing world and helped more than 4 million people in more than 70 countries access lifesaving medicines. And this week, CHAI has announced another major breakthrough on the journey to an AIDS-free generation: a study that shows that the cost of treating HIV patients is far lower than was commonly believed, and that aggressive scale-up of treatment is possible and within our means.
CHAI conducted the study – the largest-ever of its kind – in partnership with the Center for Global Development at 161 health facilities in Ethiopia, Malawi, Rwanda, Zambia, and South Africa over the course of 2011. The study revealed that in all the countries besides South Africa (whose health care facilities operate at higher costs), it now costs an average of only $200 per year to treat a patient with HIV.
This number is four times lower than was commonly thought; the previously accepted cost of yearly treatment was $880 per person per year, according to a study by the U.S. president's emergency plan for AIDS relief (PEPFAR) released two years ago at the last International Aids Conference in Vienna. This holds tremendous promise for developing country governments, where the average income per person per year – Malawi at $810; Ethiopia at $870; Rwanda at $1,110; Zambia at $1,230; and South Africa at $9,790 – was once less than the annual cost of providing treatment.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are approximately 34.2 million people living with HIV/AIDS worldwide. WHO and UNAIDS estimate that approximately 15 million people were in need of ARV therapy in 2010; while 8 million of these are now receiving the medicine they need, 7 million people still lack access to HIV/AIDS treatment. The lowered cost of HIV/AIDS medicines means that it is possible to reach these 7 million.