News / Africa

HIV Infections Drop Sharply Among Young People

Joe DeCapua

There’s good news in the latest report from UNAIDS.  It says there’s been a 25 percent drop in HIV prevalence among young people in 15 of the most severely affected countries.

In eight countries - Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Namibia, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe - “significant HIV prevalence declines have been accompanied by positive changes in sexual behavior among young people.”

Efforts paying off

UNAIDS Deputy Executive Director Paul De Lay says the report describes the improvement as a “prevention revolution.”

“We are seeing that investments in HIV prevention are showing results,” he says.  “Fifteen countries have met the 25 percent reduction in HIV infections.  That’s the target that was set at the U.N. General Assembly’s Special Session on AIDS in 2001.”

A severely or most-affected country is defined as having more than a two percent of prevalence in the 15 to 29 age group.

De Lay says, “These positive results have happened because young people are adopting safer sexual behaviors; and we’re talking about the traditional sexual behaviors… essentially delaying sexual debut, having fewer sexual partners and increased use of condoms.”

Adapting

The report’s being released prior to next week’s XVIII International AIDS Conference in Vienna.  De Lay says UNAIDS is responding to a changing world.

“With the rising treatment bill, countries in economic crisis and increasing prevention needs, the world is demanding change in the AIDS response.  And we here at UNAIDS, with our partners, are working to reshape the AIDS response,” says De Lay.

He says one of the highlights of the UNAIDS report is a Zogby survey in 25 countries looking at public response and awareness of the epidemic.

“Some of the key findings are that AIDS continues to be one of the top health priorities for the general public in all regions of the world,” he says, “The majority believe that the AIDS epidemic can be pushed back measurably by 2015.”

The Zogby poll, however, shows that half of those questioned say a lack of funding is a major obstacle.

De Lay says, ”More than 70 percent say resources should go to HIV prevention."  This highlights the importance of stopping new infections.

Treatment 2.0

UNAIDS has unveiled what it says is a “radically simplified” treatment platform, or strategy, called Treatment 2.0.  Dr. Bernhard Schwartlander of UNAIDS says it builds on the success on anti-retroviral therapy of recent years.

“The current approaches are just far too complex and too complicated.  And it will be impossible to reach the additional 10 million people that currently need treatment.  And it will be impossible to sustain and pay for further access in the years to come,” he says.

Treatment 2.0 offers a new, more affordable approach.

“At a very high level it is a radical simplification to not only reach more people more quickly, but also eventually to also save money because it will be cheaper,” he says.

It calls for a “better pill,” a tablet containing multiple anti-retrovirals that “doesn’t lead to resistance.”  When HIV builds up resistance to antiretroviral therapy, much more expensive second-line treatment is needed.

Schwartlander says the development of a better pill would lead to “much simpler diagnostics and treatment monitoring.” which would be cheaper.

The strategy also calls for a simpler and easier HIV test to determine whether a person is infected.

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