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Good news for the fight against AIDS, but some obstacles persist

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
A new UN report highlights advances in AIDS treatment, but more needs to be done

According to a United Nations’ and Kaiser Family Foundation annual report the number of deaths from AIDS has dropped dramatically thankS to increased access to treatment.

The report found the highest number of deaths from HIV/AIDS occurred in 2005 when the virus claimed 2.3 million lives. In 2011 and 2012 mortality dropped from 1.7 to 1.6 million.

The reasons are two-fold: Fewer people are contracting HIV, for once. The second reason is advances in treatment that when started early can stop the virus from replicating with a cocktail of antiretroviral drugs.

The number of people receiving treatment for HIV increased in middle and low-income countries by 20 percent in just one year which included approximately 9.7 million people.

Strides have been made in understanding how to stop AIDS. Early, aggressive treatment has been shown to "cure" AIDS in rare cases and researchers continue to explore the benefits of treatment before symptoms of the disease develop.

The UN set a goal for 2015 that they now believe can be surpassed.

Michel Sidibé, UNAIDS' executive director said: "Not only can we meet the 2015 target of 15 million people on HIV treatment, we must also go beyond and have the vision and commitment to ensure no one is left behind.”

The projected cost of treating AIDS to meet or surpass the 2015 goal is $22 billion to $24 billion annually.

The Kaiser report also found little change in funding for AIDS treatment from government donations since 2008.

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“After years of sharp increases in donor government support which led to significant progress in the fight against the HIV epidemic, funding flattened after the worldwide recession and is likely to remain flat for the immediate future,” said Kaiser Family Foundation President and CEO Drew Altman.

Luiz Loures, Deputy Executive Director, Programme, UNAIDS, “Scientific advances and new guidelines are providing opportunities to accelerate action and expand access to lifesaving HIV services. To take full advantage of these opportunities all efforts must be made to ensure the response to HIV is fully funded.”

In response, the UK has stepped up and pledged $1.6 million to the Global Fund to fight AIDS, tuberculosis (TB) and malaria over the next three years, Reuters has reported.

Overseas aid minister Justine Greening announced the pledge, saying in a press statement: "AIDS, TB and malaria are among the world's biggest killers despite being entirely preventable and treatable."

More remains to be done

Despite progress made in the fight against AIDS, more still needs to be done to curb spread of the disease among drug users where there has been little change in transmission of HIV.

“HIV prevalence among people who inject drugs remains high – up to 28% in Asia. HIV prevention coverage for people who inject drugs remains low, with only two of 32 reporting countries providing the recommended minimum of at least 200 sterile syringes per year for each person who injects drugs. Among 35 countries providing data in 2013, all but four reached less than 10% of opiate users with substitution therapy. In addition to exceptionally low coverage, an effective AIDS response among people who inject drugs is undermined by punitive policy frameworks and law enforcement practices, which discourage individuals from seeking the health and social services they need.”

There is also a need to address violence against women and girls that increases vulnerability to HIV. The report also cites gender inequality and discrimination as obstacles to HIV treatment that are "persistent obstacles" that need to be addressed.

A summary of good news for AIDS is that there has been a 52 percent reduction in the disease among children. For adults and children, new infections dropped 33 percent since 2001. You can view the entire report here.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons