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AIDS: Fewer People Being Infected, Fewer People Dying

  • Joe DeCapua

A new report from UNAIDS says significant progress is being made against HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa. The findings are contained in the 2010 report on the global AIDS epidemic.

The latest report shows the number of newly infected people in sub-Saharan Africa fell in 2009 to about 1.8 million. That compares to around 2.2 million in 2001.

It also says in 22 sub-Saharan countries, the number of new infections declined by more than 25 percent between 2001 and 2009. This includes four of the five countries with the largest HIV epidemics – namely Ethiopia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Strategy working

Paul De Lay, UNAIDS deputy executive director, says, “This report clearly demonstrates that with confidence and conviction we have broken the trajectory of the AIDS epidemic. Fewer people are becoming infected with HIV and fewer people are dying from AIDS.”

Overall, it’s estimated 33-million people worldwide are living with HIV/AIDS – the vast majority in sub-Saharan Africa.

“New HIV infections have fallen by nearly 20 percent in the last 10 years. AIDS-related deaths have fallen by nearly 20 percent in the last five years,” says De Lay, adding, “At least 56 countries that have sufficient data for study have stabilized or significantly slowed down the rate of new HIV infections.”

Nigeria is one of the countries where the HIV epidemic is now reported stabilized. But De Lay warns all the news is not positive.

“There are some regions,” he says, “where new HIV infections are on the rise, especially in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. The report also shows that there are epidemics occurring in sub-populations. In particular, there is a resurgence of HIV in young men who have sex with men in North America and Western Europe.”

Despite that, the new UNAIDS report shows that prevention can be successful.

Behavior change and prevention

Bernhard Schwartlander, director of the agency’s evidence, strategy and results department, says, “We have seen that in more and more countries people are actually adopting safer behaviors. In 59 countries, for example, less than 25 percent of the men report having sex with more than one partner in the last 12 months, which clearly is a positive trend that can be linked in many countries also with decreases in the number of new infections.”

Success can also be seen in preventing HIV transmission from infected mothers to their newborns.

“Fewer children are being born with HIV. New infections among infants have dropped by 24 percent in the last five years. And in 2009, we estimate that this number stands at 370,000, which of course is still the target to be overcome,” he says.

People with HIV/AIDS are also living longer due to the greater availability of anti-retroviral drugs. More than 5.2 million people in developing countries are receiving treatment. However, UNAIDS estimates there are 10 million people, with advanced stages of HIV/AIDS, who still need access to treatment.

Schwartlander says although it can be seen that investments are paying off, economic austerity is placing those gains in jeopardy.

“For the first time ever over the past decade or 20 years,” he says, “the resources available from international sources in 2009 were less than the resources made available from international donors in the previous year in 2008. While the difference is not dramatic, it clearly indicates that there’s a difference in the trend after having seen significant increases from year to year. This doesn’t seem to be the case anymore.”

The report also says there are still high levels of stigma and discrimination surrounding the disease some 30 years into the epidemic. For example, the report says in 79 countries and areas, same sex relationships are still criminalized. Some countries even impose the death penalty for those convicted of having such relationships.

What’s more, UNAIDS says violence against women and the fear of violence block many women from having access to HIV/AIDS related services.

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