UNAIDS Discusses Global HIV/AIDS Estimates

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At a news conference onTuesday following the release of its annual report, UNAIDSdenied accusations "that it had inflated estimates for years in analarmist effort to raise funds," the NewYork Timesreports (McNeil, New York Times, 11/21).

UNAIDS and the World Health Organization in the report lowered theirestimates of how many people are living with HIV/AIDS worldwide. According tothe report, about 33 million people worldwide are living with HIV/AIDS,compared with an estimate of nearly 40 million in 2006. The U.N. bodies saidthat better methods of data collection and increased data availability fromcountries show that HIV/AIDS is not quite as widespread as previously thought (KaiserDaily HIV/AIDS Report, 11/20).

According to the Times, charges of inflated estimates are"not an uncommon grumble in the heavily politicized" fight againstthe HIV/AIDS pandemic. Paul De Lay, UNAIDS director of monitoring and policy,said that because the organization's mission is to provide advice and monitortrends, its budget is not affected by the recent influx of funds to purchasedrugs and conduct vaccine research. In addition, De Lay said that "cookingthis data would be almost impossible" because they come from nationalhealth ministries and are overseen by several agencies.

Kevin De Cock, director of the HIV/AIDSDepartment at WHO,said that it was not certain before late 2003 that previous estimates likelywere too high. He added that the largest decrease in global estimates was seenin India,which released its revised caseload estimate in July.

According to the Times, UNAIDS now estimates that an HIV-positiveperson with no access to antiretroviral drugs will survive for an average of 11years, compared with previous estimates of nine years. Peter Ghys, chief ofepidemiology for UNAIDS, said that the former life-expectancy estimate wasbased on a study conducted in Ugandain the 1990s. The new estimate is based on unpublished studies in Haiti, Rwanda,South Africa, Tanzania, Thailandand Uganda,Ghys said, adding that the studies are scheduled to be released soon.

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According to Ghys, because prevalence estimates are determined by surveys, ahigher life-expectancy estimate lowers approximations about how many peoplenewly contract HIV annually. Based on that data, UNAIDS concluded that thenumber of new HIV cases worldwide peaked between 1997 and 2001, the Timesreports. Ghys added that the new life-expectancy estimate does not dramaticallychange the new estimate of the number of people living with the virus worldwide(New York Times, 11/21).

Broadcast Coverage

Threebroadcast programs recently reported on the report. Summaries appear below.

  • CNN: The segment includes comments from De Lay and Edwin Cameron, a South African judge and HIV/AIDS advocate (Curnow, CNN, 11/20). Video of the segment is available online. In addition, CNN's "Your World Today" on Tuesday included a discussion with CNN South Africa correspondent Robin Curnow about the new estimates (Clancy, "Your World Today," CNN, 11/20). A transcript of the complete program is available online.

  • NPR's "All Things Considered": The segment includes comments from De Lay; James Chin, professor emeritus of epidemiology at the University of California-Berkeley; and De Cock (Wilson, "All Things Considered," NPR, 11/20). Audio of the segment is available online.

  • NPR's "Day to Day": The segment includes a discussion with Karen Stanecki, UNAIDS senior adviser on demographics, about the report (Brand, "Day to Day," NPR, 11/20). Audio of the segment is available online.

Reprintedwith permission from kaisernetwork.org. You can view the entire Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, search the archives, and sign upfor email delivery at kaisernetwork.org/email . The Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Reportis published for kaisernetwork.org, a free service of The Henry J. KaiserFamily Foundation.