News / Africa

8 Million Now Receiving HIV Treatment

UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibe  (UNAIDS)
UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibe (UNAIDS)
Joe DeCapua
More than eight million HIV positive people around the world are now receiving antiretroviral drug therapy, a 20 percent increase over the past year. The Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS, or UNAIDS, has released a new report prior to the 19th International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C.

The latest UNAIDS report – Together We Will End AIDS – says nearly 1.4 million people were added to the treatment rolls last year alone. There are now more than 34-million people living with HIV. That’s more than ever, the report says, thanks to the greater availability of life-saving drugs.

“I personally believe that it is a new era – new era for treatment, new era for prevention. But it is also from my personal reading a beginning of a journey to getting to zero,” said Michel Sidibe, executive director of UNAIDS.

He said it’s a new era of shared responsibility, mutual accountability and global solidarity.

“These three pillars will be certainly shaping not just our discussion during the next few days, but will shape also probably our response in the coming days and years,” he said.

He added the money spent to battle HIV/AIDS was money well spent. Global investments for HIV reached nearly $17 billion in 2011.

“We are talking more and more of cost effectiveness, efficiency, reducing unit costs of producing any results. We are trying to make sure that the framework, investment framework, we are using with the countries becomes smarter,” said Sidibe.

Low and middle income countries have greatly increased their own investment in fighting the epidemic. Domestic spending on the disease now exceeds international investment for the first time. For example, South Africa invested $2 billion last year.

Much of the international funding for treatment, research and prevention comes from PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator Dr. Eric Goosby, who’s in charge of PEPFAR, said, “Our resource allocation and prioritization -- shifts that over the last three years we have aggressively tried to institute in our PEPFAR programs -- have begun to show the fruit of that labor. Moving to high risk populations - targeting key populations -- to ensure that they are identified in a safe setting, in a safe space, to allow them to be entered and retained in care over time.”

PEPFAR works through partnerships with national governments, giving them more say in tailoring programs.

“I think that the numbers that UNAIDS is presenting to the world reassure me that we are positioned to know, monitor and understand the data as it comes in. And we have moved I think over the last few years to be much more nimble in our ability to reposition our programming,’ said Goosby.

But there’s still much to do and billions of dollars more are needed, according to UNAIDS.

UNAIDS reports 1.7-million people died from AIDS-related causes in 2011. That’s a decline of 24 percent since deaths reached their peak in 2005. TB remains the leading cause of death among people living with HIV, as weakened immune systems make them more vulnerable to the infection. Also, 2.5-million people were newly infected with HIV last year.

What’s more, young people – those between 15 and 24 years old – account for 40 percent of all new adult HIV infections. And most of those infections are among young women. Surveys show that many young people still lack knowledge about HIV prevention and transmission.

Also, HIV positive people in parts of Asia and Eastern Europe still lack access to treatment. And infections are rising among men-who-have-sex-with-men, intravenous drugs users and sexworkers. 

Nevertheless, the UNAIDS report says efforts are on track to have 15 million people on treatment by 2015.

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