A new report released today by two United Nations agencies puts the number of people living with HIV at about 33.2 million, down from last year’s estimate of 39.5 million, attributing the decrease to more accurate data collection and analysis.
The new data show global HIV prevalence, or the percentage of people living with HIV, has levelled off and that the number of new infections has also fallen, thanks in part to global HIV programmes. In addition to the 33.2 million people estimated to be living with HIV in 2007, 2.5 million people have become newly infected and 2.1 million people have died of AIDS.
“These improved data present us with a clearer picture of the AIDS epidemic, one that reveals both challenges and opportunities,” said UNAIDS Executive Director Dr. Peter Piot.
“Unquestionably, we are beginning to see a return on investment – new HIV infections and mortality are declining and the prevalence of HIV levelling. But with more than 6,800 new infections and over 5,700 deaths each day due to AIDS we must expand our efforts in order to significantly reduce the impact of AIDS worldwide.”
The findings also show that AIDS is among the leading causes of death globally and remains the primary cause of death in Africa.
According to the data, there were an estimated 1.7 million new HIV infections in sub-Saharan Africa in 2007. While that represents a significant decrease from 2001, the region remains the most severely affected.
The report shows that an estimated 22.5 million people living with HIV – or 68 per cent of the global total – are in sub-Saharan Africa. Eight countries in this region now account for almost one-third of all new HIV infections and AIDS deaths globally.
The two agencies cite an “intensive reassessment” of the epidemic in India as the primary reason for the reduction in global HIV prevalence figures in the past year. The revised estimates for India, combined with important revisions of estimates in five sub-Saharan African countries (Angola, Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria, and Zimbabwe) account for 70 per cent of the reduction in HIV prevalence as compared to last year.
Paul De Lay, Director of Evidence Monitoring and Policy at UNAIDS, told reporters that the report shows that overall global declines are partly attributed to strong treatment and prevention programmes.
“Data from countries such as Côte d’Ivoire, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Cambodia, Myanmar and Thailand are showing that there are behavioural data that supports this epidemiologic data,” he told a press briefing in New York via video-link from Geneva. “It is encouraging that we’re seeing returns on the investments made in many parts of the world.”
The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) agreed, stating in a press release that the new numbers show that investments in prevention programmes are clearly working.
“This new report of UNAIDS communicates what we have know for many years – namely, prevention works,” said Steve Kraus, Chief UNFPA’s HIV/AIDS Branch. “Young people, when provided with accurate and comprehensive information, education and services postpone sexual debut, reduce the number of sex partners, and ensure the use of condoms.”
The Fund adds that so far, the new data also suggests that HIV transmission among young people is declining in nine countries – Botswana, Cameroon, Chad, Kenya, Haiti, Malawi, Togo, Zambia and Zimbabwe. These trends, combined with evidence of significant declines in HIV prevalence among young pregnant women in urban and or rural areas from five countries (Botswana, Côte d’Ivoire, Kenya, Malawi and Zimbabwe) indicate that HIV prevention efforts are having a significant impact in some of the worst affected countries.
“We are seeing a return on investments made in the past several years,” stated Mr. Kraus. “We need to continue these investments, knowing that universal access to sexual and reproductive health allows countries and communities to scale up HIV prevention services and help make the money work.”