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UN Report Shows Major Progress on HIV-AIDS

  • Carol Pearson

The latest report from the United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS provides a vision of hope. It shows that we are closer to the goal of an AIDS-free generation.

The number of people around the world who are newly infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, has dropped dramatically - by 30 percent - over the past several years. That's according to the latest report from the United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS.

Dr. Anthony Fauci at the U.S. National Institutes of Health has spent the last three decades trying to stem the pandemic. He says the biggest reason for the decline is people are getting treated.

"We know now, that when you put someone on treatment, not only is it lifesaving for them, but it also dramatically diminishes the likelihood that they will transmit their infection to their sexual partner," said Fauci.

The cost of anti-AIDS drugs has dropped from $10,000 per year to about $140, money Dr. Fauci says is well spent, even for low income countries.

"If you wait until they get sick, you have the cost of the medication, plus the very prohibitive cost of taking care of someone when they get sick," he said.

Massive education campaigns have helped people change their behavior by using condoms and, for drug users, needle exchanges. These measures prevent people from exchanging blood or semen, which is how HIV commonly
spreads. Male circumcision reduces transmission and is becoming more common.

New infections have dropped in all age groups, but the greatest difference is seen among children. If pregnant women receive anti-viral medicine, their risk of passing HIV to their children drops below 5 percent.

The result is that over the past 10 years, the number of children infected with HIV has dropped by 50 percent.

World health officials talk about reaching the tipping point. Again, Dr. Fauci:

"The tipping point is when the number of people who go on therapy is greater than the number of people who get newly infected," he said.

Dr. Fauci estimates that for every person who gets into treatment, up to two more are newly infected. Not all have access to the life-saving drugs, and not all people know how vulnerable they really are.

African Americans are a key risk group. They make up 12 percent of the population, yet they account for more than 50 percent of new HIV infections.

Thirty-five million people are living with HIV. As for an AIDS-free generation, Dr. Fauci says he would settle for another dramatic decrease over time.