A World AIDS Day sculpture in the eastern Indian state of Odisha (Photo: Stringer/REUTERS)
Some encouraging news today from UNAIDS, the United Nations agency devoted to combating the spread of HIV/AIDS: deaths and infection rates are falling, and the number of people in treatment is rising. Perhaps most dramatically, between 2001 and 2012, the number of new HIV infections among children has been cut in half.
"Today we have the tools we need to lay the groundwork to end the AIDS epidemic," writes UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé in the report.
AIDS-related deaths fell to 1.6 million a year in 2012, down from a high of 2.3 million in 2005, and the number of new infections fell to 2.3 million from a peak of 3.4 million in 2001. Overall, the report says, there are an estimated 35.3 million people in the world living with HIV today. In just one year, from 2011 to 2012, the number of people in low- and middle-income countries with access to antiretroviral therapy increased by nearly 20 per cent. Because of the progress made in prevention and access to treatment, UNAIDS is actually ahead of schedule in reaching many of its 2015 targets, part of the Millennium Development Goals that the United Nations committed to in 2000.
Despite these numbers, however, the report cautions that funding for HIV has flat-lined in recent years: about $19.4 billion dollars were available worldwide to fight the disease in 2012, well short of the estimated $24.7 billion required. Other ongoing challenges include decreases in condom use in sub-Saharan Africa; continued high prevalence of HIV among injection drug users; and the persistence of HIV-related stigma in many countries.
"These challenges are real, and they must be taken seriously if countries are to achieve their AIDS targets," writes Sidibé. "However, the enormous progress that this report describes highlights the undeniable fact that the AIDS response has encountered — and overcome — such challenges in the past."