by Mike Andrew -
SGN Staff Writer
A new UNAIDS report says the global HIV/AIDS epidemic can be brought under control by 2030, but WHO (the World Health Organization) warns that HIV infection rates may 'explode' among Gay men and other high risk groups.
The report from UNAIDS, the agency charged with monitoring HIV/AIDS cases and treatment worldwide, notes that new HIV infections have fallen 38% since 2001, and AIDS-related deaths have fallen 20% in the past three years.
According to the report, there were 2.1 million new HIV infections in 2013, compared to 3.4 million in 2001. AIDS-related deaths stood at 1.5 million for 2013, and declined significantly in countries like South Africa and Ethiopia, formerly thought of as hot-spots of the epidemic.
'There have been more achievements in the past five years than in the preceding 23 years,' the UNAIDS report said.
'There is evidence about what works and where the obstacles remain; more than ever before, there is hope that ending AIDS is possible. However, a business-as-usual approach or simply sustaining the AIDS response at its current pace cannot end the epidemic.'
The down side to the global HIV/AIDS picture is that many HIV-positive people still lack access to life-saving antiretroviral drugs. In fact, UNAIDS estimates that as many as 54% of people living with HIV do not know they are infected and 63% are not getting antiretroviral therapy.
'Providing life-saving HIV treatment to nearly 12 million people in the developing world is a significant achievement, but more than half of people in need still do not have access,' Dr. Jennifer Cohn, the medical director for Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders), warned.
HIV/AIDS cases are also becoming more concentrated geographically, with only 15 countries accounting for three-quarters of all new HIV infections.
Michel Sidibe, the executive director of UNAIDS, concluded that 'If we accelerate all HIV scale-up by 2020, we will be on track to end the epidemic by 2030; if not, we risk significantly increasing the time it would take - adding a decade, if not more.'
Meanwhile, in a report issued July 11, WHO (the U.N.'s World Health Organization) warned that HIV rates may shoot up among some populations. The report was issued as a lead-in to the International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, Australia, scheduled to start on July 20.
Gottfried Hirnschall, the head of WHO's HIV department, says that infection rates among Gay men are increasing again, partially because HIV infection no longer represents the same fears to a younger generation with access to drugs that enable patients to live with HIV/AIDS.
Although HIV infection rates did drop by a third between 2001 and 2012, Hirnschall characterized progress as 'uneven.' Failure to provide adequate HIV services for key groups - men who have sex with men, people in prison, people who inject drugs, sex workers, and Transgender people - threatens global progress on the HIV response, the WHO report said.
'We are seeing exploding epidemics,' Hirnschall warned.
Because of these concerns, WHO issued new guidelines for countries to reduce new HIV infections and increase access to HIV testing, treatment and care for these five 'key populations.'
They include a comprehensive range of clinical recommendations, but for these to be effective, WHO said, countries need to remove the legal and social barriers that prevent many people from accessing services.
For the first time, WHO strongly recommended that men who have sex with men consider taking PrEP meds in addition to using condoms.
Computer modelling shows that, globally, 20-25% reductions in HIV incidence among men who have sex with men could be achieved through use of PrEP, averting up to 1 million new infections among the five most at-risk groups over 10 years.
When taken consistently by people at high risk, studies show PrEP meds can reduce the chances of getting HIV by up to 92%.
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