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Report Shows Big Drop in New HIV Infections

Ugandan HIV/AIDS patients listen as a doctor explains how to start anti-retroviral treatment, near Kampala, Sept. 1, 2005.
Ugandan HIV/AIDS patients listen as a doctor explains how to start anti-retroviral treatment, near Kampala, Sept. 1, 2005.
A new report from UNAIDS indicates that the rate of new HIV infections has dropped significantly over the past decade. The report estimated 2.3 million adults and children were newly infected with HIV in 2012, a figure that represents a 33 percent reduction in annual new cases compared to 2001.

The report says the most striking results in combating HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, are to be found among children, for which the number of new HIV infections has been cut by 52 percent since 2001.

Mahesh Mahalingam is the Director of the Office of the Deputy Executive Director of UNAIDS. He said a major element of this progress is that many more pregnant women who are living with HIV are receiving medication that prevents transmission of the disease from mother to child.

“Nearly 62 percent of women who are pregnant and have HIV have received anti-retroviral medicine. As a result, the number of children becoming infected with HIV has dropped to record low levels from nearly half a million just about 10 years ago. Now only about 260,000 children were infected with HIV. We hope that by 2015, we can bring this number down to virtually zero,” said Mahalingam.

The report notes that some 9.7 million people in low and middle-income countries were accessing antiretroviral therapy by the end of 2012, an increase of nearly 20 percent in just one year. The report’s authors say this dramatic acceleration makes them optimistic that the Millennium Development Goal of having 15 million people on HIV treatment will be reached by the 2015 target date.

In 2012, the report found an estimated 35.3 million people globally were living with HIV and 1.6 million had died from AIDS-related illnesses. Sub-Saharan Africa remains the most heavily infected region in the world.

It says most new HIV infections have occurred in Sub-Saharan Africa, while the continent as a whole accounts for nearly 75 percent of all people living with HIV in the world. Mahalingam points out that government leadership combined with community action is succeeding in turning the epidemic around in some places.

“The most amount of progress is happening in the country that has the largest number of people living with HIV in the world, and that is South Africa. In South Africa, record numbers of people have been put on antiretroviral therapy and… about 50 percent decline in new infections have occurred in that country,” he said.

The study found rises in new HIV infections in Eastern Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. It says Ukraine is making progress in combating the disease, but elsewhere in Eastern Europe drug-injecting users are fueling the epidemic.

It says most new HIV infections in developed, Western countries are occurring among gay men. It says people in the United States and Europe view AIDS as a chronic disease, one which can be treated with medication. As a consequence, the report says many people are becoming complacent and are no longer taking preventive measures.

UNAIDS says punitive laws that criminalize sexual behavior, in addition to stigma and discrimination, prevent people from coming forward to learn their HIV status and get treatment. It warns that this has the effect of driving the disease underground and worsening the epidemic.