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UN agency reports significant progress in reducing new HIV infections

UN agency reports significant progress in reducing new HIV infections

UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé
The number of new HIV infections is steadily falling or stabilizing in most parts of the world, with the countries with the largest epidemics in Africa leading the way, the United Nations agency coordinating the global AIDS response reported today.

The Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) released new data ahead of the UN summit that begins next Monday in New York on how to advance progress on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which range from halving extreme poverty to providing universal primary education, all by 2015.

“We are seeing real progress towards MDG 6,” said the agency’s Executive Director, Michel Sidibé, referring to the goal of halting and beginning to reverse the spread of HIV by 2015.

According to the data, Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Nigeria, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe – which have the largest epidemics in Africa – are leading the drop in new HIV infections.

Twenty-two countries in sub-Saharan Africa have seen a decline of more than 25 per cent in new HIV infections between 2001 and 2009.

“For the first time change is happening at the heart of the epidemic. In places where HIV was stealing away dreams, we now have hope,” said Mr. Sidibé.

UNAIDS also reported a 12-fold increase in the number of people receiving treatment, now 5.2 million people, and a significant drop in AIDS deaths thanks to the widespread availability of treatment.

There have also been gains on the prevention front, with young people choosing to have sex later, having fewer partners and using condoms, leading to a marked decrease in new HIV infections in many countries highly affected by AIDS.

At the same time, UNAIDS noted that challenges remain, including growing HIV epidemics in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, as well as a resurgence of HIV infections among men who have sex with men in several wealthy countries.

Mr. Sidibé stressed the need for further investments in research and development to sustain the gains. In 2009, nearly $16 billion was available for the global AIDS response, which is $10 billion short of the estimated need.

“At this turning point flat-lining or reductions in investments will set back the AIDS response and threaten the world’s ability to reach MDG 6,” he stated. “Investing for AIDS is a shared responsibility – between development partners and national governments.”

UNAIDS also advocates integrating AIDS with other health, development and human rights efforts to accelerate progress across the array of MDGs, make optimum use of available resources, and save and improve more lives.

For example, new UN estimates show that there were 42,000 deaths due to HIV among pregnant women in 2008, about half of which were estimated to be maternal.

“Integrating HIV investments for maternal health, sexual and reproductive health, as well as child health will leverage better results for millions of people most in need,” said Mr. Sidibé. “As we move ahead, the HIV response can help accelerate progress across all eight development goals.”