The world's failure to provide HIV drugs to those who need them is a "global health emergency," the World Health Organization announced this week, a definition it has only used twice before—with tuberculosis in 1993 and this year with its travel recommendations on severe acute respiratory syndrome.

But what does it mean? "It means we'll be taking decisions much quicker and being willing to take some more risks, not risks with lives but to save lives," a World Health Organization (WHO) spokesperson told The Scientist.

Jim Kim, advisor on HIV/AIDS and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) to the WHO director-general, told The Scientist, "We are declaring an emergency because to bicker and argue while people are dying is not acceptable."

WHO's experience and approach to SARS and to national disasters such as those in Iraq, Liberia, and Afghanistan is now going to be applied to HIV/AIDS treatment,...

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