by Mike Andrew -
SGN Staff Writer
According to a new report by UNAIDS, the agency that manages the international response to the HIV/AIDS pandemic, the rate of new HIV infections is down by almost 25%.
The report, issued June 3 - the 30th anniversary of the world's first AIDS diagnosis - is titled 'AIDS at 30: Nations at the Crossroads.'
According to the report, the rate of new HIV infections fell by more than 50% in India and by more than 35% in South Africa.
This is considered particularly good news, because these countries have the largest number of people living with HIV on their continents.
Not only is the rate of new infection down, but a record 6.6 million people were receiving antiretroviral therapy in low- and middle-income countries at the end of 2010.
This is nearly a 22-fold increase in treatment since 2001. A record 1.4 million people began antiretroviral treatment in 2010.
In addition, at least 420,000 children were receiving antiretroviral therapy at the end of 2010, a 50% increase since 2008.
The report also noted that younger people are becoming better informed about HIV and are starting to adopt safer sexual behaviors, reflecting the impact of HIV prevention and awareness efforts.
Introducing the report at a press conference at the U.N.'s New York headquarters, U.N. Deputy Secretary General Asha-Rose Migiro said the successes it documented offered a "chance to chart a new, bold path" in HIV/AIDS treatment.
"Thirty years ago when scientists first identified AIDS, it was mysterious, deadly, and spreading," Migiro said.
"Now, three decades on, more and more people have access to treatment, infections are declining and greater numbers of pregnant women living with HIV are keeping their babies free of infection."
Migiro also announced that the U.N. would convene a special summit conference on HIV/AIDS within a week.
"Some 20 heads of state and government will be here from all regions," she said. "I am counting on them - the secretary-general is counting on them - and all of our partners - to review and renew our global commitments.
"Ultimately, our target is clear: zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination, and zero AIDS-related deaths."
"Access to treatment will transform the AIDS response in the next decade. We must invest in accelerating access and finding new treatment options," said UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibe.
"Antiretroviral therapy is a bigger game-changer than ever before - it not only stops people from dying, but also prevents the transmission of HIV to women, men, and children."
In spite of all the successes, the report concludes that significant challenges remain.
The latest estimates from UNAIDS show that 34 million people were living with HIV at the end of 2010, and nearly 30 million have died from AIDS-related causes over the past 30 years.
Despite expanded access to antiretroviral therapy, a major treatment gap remains.
At the end of 2010, nine million people who were eligible for treatment with antiretroviral medications did not have access to them.
Treatment access for children is lower than for adults - only 28% of eligible children were receiving antiretroviral therapy in 2009, compared to 36% coverage for people of all ages.
While the rate of new HIV infections has declined, the total number of new infections remains high, at about 7,000 per day.
And while the global rate of new HIV infections has declined significantly, the statistics hide important regional variations.
According to the report, above-average declines in new HIV infections were recorded in sub-Saharan Africa and in Southeast Asia, while Latin America and the Caribbean experienced more modest reductions of less than 25%.
There has been an increase in the rate of new HIV infections in Eastern Europe and in the Middle East and North Africa.
In virtually all countries, HIV prevalence among populations at increased risk of HIV infection is higher than among other populations. These include men who have sex with men, people who inject drugs, sex workers and their clients, and Transgender people.
Access to HIV prevention and treatment for populations at higher risk of infection is generally lower due to punitive and discriminatory laws and social stigma and discrimination.
As of April 2011, 79 countries, territories, and other jurisdictions criminalize consensual same-sex relations. An additional 116 jurisdictions criminalize some aspect of sex work.
Thirty-two countries have laws that allow the death penalty for drug-related offenses.
All these legal obstacles tend to deter at-risk populations from seeking regular HIV testing, and all hinder effective treatment of HIV/AIDS patients.
In addition, gender inequalities remain a major barrier to effective HIV responses.
HIV is the leading cause of death among women of reproductive age worldwide, and more than 25% of all new HIV infections are among young women between the ages of 15 and 24.
Young men are more likely to be informed about HIV prevention than young women. Recent demographic health surveys found that an estimated 74% of young men know that condoms are effective in preventing HIV infection, compared to just 49% of young women.
According to the report, investments in HIV response in low- and middle-income countries rose nearly 10-fold between 2001 and 2009, from $1.6 billion to $15.9 billion.
However, in 2010, international resources for HIV declined.
"I am worried that international investments are falling at a time when the AIDS response is delivering results for people," Sidibe said. "If we do not invest now, we will have to pay several times more in the future."
UNAIDS therefore called for major new investment in international HIV/AIDS programs.
A 2011 investment framework proposed by UNAIDS and its partners asserts that an investment of at least $22 billion is needed by the year 2015, or $6 billion more than is available today.
The estimated return on such an investment would be 12 million fewer new HIV infections, and 7.4 million fewer AIDS-related deaths by the year 2020.
The number of new infections would decline from about 2.5 million in 2009 to about 1 million in 2015.
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