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On World AIDS Day How Close Are We To Eliminating HIV/AIDS?
December 1, 2013
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A World AIDS Day ceremony in the Philippines in Manila, Philippines last year (Photo: TED ALJIBE/AFP/Getty Images)

Today is World AIDS Day, an opportunity to unite to stop the spread of HIV, show support for those living with the disease and honour those who have died. The first World AIDS Day took place back in 1988, the brainchild of two public information officers working at the Global Programme on AIDS at the World Health Organization. Twenty-five years later, how well is the world progressing in the goal of eliminating the disease?

In September, the UN agency devoted to combating HIV/AIDS reported what it called "striking gains" toward elimination. Annual deaths and infection rates are both falling, and the number of people with access to treatment is increasing. And between 2001 and 2012, the number of new HIV infections among children was cut in half.

"Today we have the tools we need to lay the groundwork to end the AIDS epidemic," wrote UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé in September.

About 35.3 million people around the world are currently living with HIV, according to UNAIDS. More than 35 million people have died from the disease, making it one of the deadliest pandemics ever. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, about 71,300 people were living with HIV in Canada at the end of 2011 — although only a quarter of those living with the disease were aware of it.

Globally, according to UNAIDS, there has been a 33 per cent decrease in new HIV infections since 2001, and a 29 per cent decrease in AIDS-related deaths since 2005. And a 40-fold increase in access to antiretroviral therapy between 2002 and 2012.

But not all the recent news is so encouraging.

Earlier this week, the UN Children's Fund reported an alarming increase in the rate of HIV infection among adolescents worldwide. In its 2013 Stocktaking Report on Children and AIDS, the agency reported that AIDS-related deaths among adolescents, those between 10 and 19, grew from 71,000 in 2005 to 110,000 in 2012, with about 2.1 million adolescents living with the disease worldwide. Of those newly infected, the report says 90 per cent live in just 22 countries, all but one of which are in sub-Saharan Africa.

To combat the spread of AIDS in this population, the report recommends what it calls "high-impact interventions," like the widespread distribution of condoms, antiretroviral treatment, prevention of mother-to-child transmission and education to promote healthier behaviours.

Friday on the show, George interviewed Dr. Don Francis, an epidemiologist and pioneer in the fight against HIV/AIDS. One of the things Francis spoke about was the Krever Inquiry which followed Canada's tainted blood scandal of the 1980s:

For more on the tainted blood scandal, see this primer.

And tomorrow on the show, George will talk with Alan Cumming, the Scottish-American actor, about his involvement with the American Foundation for AIDS Research. Tune in to CBC TV on December 2 at 7 p.m. or 11:30 p.m. to catch that interview.

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