New HIV infections in children have halved since 2001 and been cut by one-third in adults.
These are some of the “striking gains” announced in the Global report on HIV/AIDS 2013, released by the Joint United Nations Programme on AIDS (UNAIDS), today.
AIDS deaths have also dropped significantly, with an estimated 1.6 million people dying of AIDS last year, in comparison to some 2.3 million in 2005.
The reduction in HIV in children is due largely to treatment programmes to prevent pregnant women with HIV from passing the virus on to their newborns.
South Africa is one of the top performers, reaching 80 percent of pregnant HIV-positive women, while Botswana, Ghana, Namibia and Zambia are already reaching the UNAIDS 2015 target of 90 percent of women.
But neighbouring Lesotho has gone in reverse, now only reaching 57 percent of pregnant women (down from 75 percent the previous year), while Angola only treats 17 percent of pregnant women.
UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibe attributed the successes to “the synergistic efforts of diverse stakeholders,” including “the leadership and commitment of national governments, the solidarity of the international community, innovation by programme implementers, the historic advances achieved by the scientific research community and the passionate engagement of civil society, most notably people living with HIV themselves.”
But Sidibe warned against complacency, as there was still “a major resource gap” of up to $5.4 billion undermining the world’s efforts to reduce HIV by 2015, in line with the Millennium Development Goals.
Although the number of people on antiretroviral treatment has tripled in the past five years, only one-third of adults (9.7 million) who need ARVs are getting them in low and middle-income countries.
Dauntingly, the report says, “it is increasingly clear that everyone infected with HIV will eventually need treatment” – some 35.2 million people at present.
Around 2.5 million South Africans are on ARVs, yet over six million South Africans will eventually need the lifelong medication.
ARV treatment has prevented an estimated 6.6 million deaths. In KwaZulu-Natal – one of the worst-affected areas in the world – life expectancy has increased by about 11 years since 2003, when HIV treatment started.
The report praises South Africa for managing to reduce the cost of ARV medicine by 38 percent through its latest tender process to enhance the sustainability of the treatment.
South Africa is one of the least donor-dependent countries in Africa, with less than a quarter of our HIV programme covered by donors. Worryingly, a long list of countries including Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Kenya and Malawi rely on donors for at least three-quarters of their HIV programme
Aside from the lack of funds, the report notes that “in several countries that have experienced significant declines in new HIV infections, disturbing signs have emerged of increases in sexual risk behaviours among young people”.
“Stigma and discrimination remain rife in many parts of the world, and punitive laws continue to deter those most at risk from seeking essential HIV services.” – Health-e News Service.