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UN: HIV/AIDS Infections and Deaths Down, but Challenges Remain

FILE - Buddhist monks light candles during an HIV/AIDS awareness campaign for World AIDS Day in Kolkata, India, Dec. 1, 2018.

New United Nations data shows that global HIV/AIDS infection rates and deaths are down and treatment is up, but new infections remain a serious challenge in certain high-risk groups.

In a report launched Tuesday ahead of World AIDS Day on Dec. 1, UNAIDS reports that of the nearly 38 million people globally living with HIV — the virus that causes AIDS — more than 24 million patients are receiving antiretroviral therapy (ARVs). That is a significant increase from nine years ago, when about 7 million people were accessing the life-saving treatment.

UNAIDS says about 8 million people do not know they are infected with HIV.

AIDS-related deaths worldwide are also down by more than half since 2004. Some 770,000 people died of the disease last year.

"The gains continue to be made against the epidemic, but those gains are getting smaller year after year," said Ninan Varughese, director of the UNAIDS New York office.

He said improvements in eastern and southern Africa are driving global progress rates, but many other areas of the world have faced setbacks, such as Central Asia and Eastern Europe.

High-risk groups

More than half of new infections are among high-risk groups and their sexual partners.

"If you look outside sub-Saharan Africa it is 75%," Varughese said. "For example, more than 95% of new infections in Central Asia and Eastern Europe are among key populations."

He said the risk of being infected with HIV is 22 times higher among homosexual men and intravenous drug users, 21 times higher for sex workers, and 12 times higher for transgender persons.

Women and girls

Another demographic group that is seeing a negative trend is adolescent sub-Saharan African women and girls, with 6,000 new infections each week among those between the ages of 15 and 24.

"In sub-Saharan Africa, 4 in 5 new infections among adolescents age 15 to 19 are among girls," Varughese added.

More money is needed to fund the global response. UNAIDS estimates a need of $26.2 billion for 2020.

While 19 countries are on track to reach the 2030 target of ending the AIDS epidemic, most of the world is not.