Significant progress in the fight against HIV/AIDS has been achieved over the past three decades, but the world must not relent in its efforts to roll back the pandemic, United Nations officials said today, stressing the importance of preventing new infections and deaths.
“Our common goal is clear: universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support. We must also work to make the AIDS response sustainable,” Mr. Ban said in his message to mark World AIDS Day, observed annually on 1 December.
“Three decades into this crisis, let us set our sights on achieving the “three zeros” – zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths. On this World AIDS Day, let us pledge to work together to realize this vision for all of the world’s people,” he said.
He pointed out that despite the untold suffering and death that AIDS had visited upon mankind, the global community had united with passion to take action and save lives.
“Fewer people are becoming infected with HIV. Millions of people have gained access to HIV treatment. More women are now able to prevent their babies from becoming infected with HIV. Travel restrictions for people living with HIV are being lifted by many countries, as stigma gives way – still too slowly – to compassion and recognition of human rights,” the Secretary-General said.
He called for stronger commitment to efforts that enabled the world to reach the first part of Millennium Development Goal 6 – halting and beginning to reverse the spread of HIV. “We must continue to chart a new and bold path ahead,” Mr. Ban said.
The President of the General Assembly, Joseph Deiss, cautioned that gains in fighting the spread of the disease are fragile, recalling the millions of people who need anti-retroviral treatment, yet have no access to the drugs.
“There is no room for complacency, and we must do more and better to ultimately reverse the epidemic,” he said. “This is a clear message for the United Nations General Assembly, when world leaders will gather in June 2011 to review progress made in fighting the epidemic and in achieving universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support by 2010.”
He urged governments, civil society, people living with HIV, the private sector and the UN as a whole to engage constructively to make the 2011 high-level meeting a success. “People living with HIV and affected by the epidemic deserve no less,” Mr. Deiss said.
Michel Sidibé, the Executive Director of the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), noted that the number of new HIV infections and deaths have been reduced by nearly 20 per cent, but lamented that some 30 million people had lost their lives to AIDS-related illnesses over the past three decades, while an estimated 10 million people are currently awaiting treatment.
“Our hard-won gains are fragile – so our commitment to the AIDS response must remain strong,” Mr. Sidibé said in his message.
“With your commitment and that of UNAIDS and the UN family, we are changing the course of the AIDS epidemic. I have called for the virtual elimination of mother-to-child transmission by 2015,” he added, stressing that an “AIDS-free generation is possible in our lifetime.”
The latest UNAIDS report released last week shows that an estimated 2.6 million people became newly infected with HIV, nearly 20 per cent fewer than the 3.1 million people infected in 1999. In 2009, 1.8 million people died from AIDS-related illnesses, nearly one-fifth lower than the 2.1 million people who died in 2004.
According to the report, from 2001 to 2009, the rate of new HIV infections stabilized or decreased by more than 25 per cent in at least 56 countries around the world, including 34 countries in sub-Saharan Africa.
Of the five countries with the largest epidemics in the region, four countries – Ethiopia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe – have reduced rates of new HIV infections by more than 25 per cent, while Nigeria’s epidemic has stabilized.
Margaret Chan, the Director-General of the UN World Health Organization (WHO), called in her message for the protection of the human rights of those living with HIV/AIDS and urged all sectors to combat discrimination against those infected.
“Working with people living with HIV is critical for an effective HIV response and Member States need to be mindful of the commitments made in the 2006 Political Declaration on HIV/AIDS to promote better legal and social environments for people to access HIV testing, prevention and treatment,” Ms. Chan said.
She stressed that those affected by the disease are entitled to social services, including education, housing, social security and even asylum. “Ensuring the rights of people living with HIV is good public health practice, by improving the health and well-being of those affected and by making prevention efforts more effective.
“A wide range of countries have enacted legislation to prevent discrimination against people living with HIV. However, in many cases, there is poor enforcements of such laws and stigmatization of people living with HIV and most-at-risk populations persist,” she added.
Meanwhile, new WHO guidelines released today show that children and adults living with HIV can be protected from tuberculosis (TB) infection with a regular, low-cost preventive medication. Of the nearly two million AIDS-related deaths each year, a quarter of them are associated with TB.
Due to their weakened immune system, people living with HIV are less able to fight TB infection and are more likely to develop active TB which can be deadly and can spread to others.
In some communities, up to 80 per cent of people with TB test positive for HIV. Taking medicine containing the anti-TB drug isoniazid is a simple and cost-effective measure that prevents the TB bacteria from becoming active if it is present.
Known as Isoniazid Preventive Therapy (IPT), the treatment approach is not new, but has been underused. Only 85,000 people, or 0.2 per cent of all those living with HIV, received isoniazid for TB prevention in 2009.
“As we commemorate World AIDS Day, it is clear that managing HIV must include addressing TB,” said Gottfried Hirnschall, the Director of WHO’s HIV/AIDS Department. “We need to fully implement the WHO Three I’s for HIV/TB strategy in collaboration with all partners. The Three I’s are Isoniazid Preventive Therapy, Intensified TB screening and Infection control for TB,” he said.