UN reports promising trend in HIV infection rates, record numbers living with virus

24 November 2009

The trend in new HIV infections around the world has slowed markedly over the past eight years, according to a United Nations report released today, which also notes that more people than ever before are living with the virus.

The 2009 AIDS Epidemic Update reported that new HIV infections have been slashed by 17 per cent globally and that some 33.4 million people are now living with HIV, while AIDS-related deaths have dropped by 10 per cent in the last five years.

The report, by the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the World Health Organization (WHO) , largely attributes the decline in infections and decrease in deaths to a rise in the number of people benefiting from HIV prevention programmes and those receiving antiretroviral treatments.

“The good news is that we have evidence that the declines we are seeing are due, at least in part, to HIV prevention,” said UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé.

“If we do a better job of getting resources and programmes to where they will make most impact, quicker progress can be made and more lives saved,” added Mr. Sidibé.

The UNAIDS and WHO report estimated that some 2.9 million lives have been saved since 1996 due to the availability of effective treatments and a boost in funding.

“International and national investment in HIV treatment scale-up has yielded concrete and measurable results,” said WHO Director-General Margaret Chan.

The report noted that in Botswana, where treatment coverage is 80 per cent, AIDS-related deaths have fallen by over 50 per cent over the past five years and the number of children newly orphaned is also coming down as parents are living longer.

“We cannot let this momentum wane,” said Dr. Chan. “Now is the time to redouble our efforts, and save many more lives.”

The joint report also said that allowing access to antiretroviral therapy for HIV-positive mothers has prevented around 200,000 new infections among children since 2001.

Another of the report’s findings pointed to the positive impact of integrating prevention and treatment programmes with other health and social welfare services.

“AIDS isolation must end,” said Mr. Sidibé. “Half of all maternal deaths in Botswana and South Africa are due to HIV. This tells us that we must work for a unified health approach bringing maternal and child health and HIV programmes as well as tuberculosis programmes together to work to achieve their common goal.”

The report also warns that prevention programmes must keep pace with changes in the epidemic. For example, it said that programmes should take into account shifts in the spread of the disease in parts of Asia where the epidemic – once characterized by transmission through sex work and injecting drug use – is now increasingly affecting heterosexual couples.

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