NEW YORK (AlertNet) – Fewer people are dying from AIDS-related illnesses and being infected with the HIV virus than at any time in the last decade, but more progress is needed in prevention, testing and treatment, a report from the United Nations AIDS programme (UNAIDS) said on Wednesday.
“…the world deserves no less than a future of zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths,” UNAIDS executive director Michel Sidibé wrote in an introduction to the report.
Between 2001 and 2011, substantial advances were made towards that goal, thanks mainly to increased testing, greater access to antiretroviral drug therapy and more investment by low- and middle-income countries in strategies to combat AIDS.
Fewer people are dying from AIDS-related illnesses, with the number of deaths declining to 1.7 million in 2011. New cases of HIV infections were 2.5 million, the lowest level since 2001, according to UNAIDS figures for the last decade.
New infections in children - 330,000 in 2011 - are also at their lowest level after peaking at 570,000 in 2002-2003. This is primarily due to more HIV-infected women receiving antiretroviral drugs to avoid transmission of the virus during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
Around the world, 34.2 million people are living with HIV, a number that has climbed steadily from 28.9 million people in 2001, said the report, released ahead of the 19th International AIDS Conference in Washington next week.
In 2011, more than 8 million people living with HIV in low- and middle-income countries were receiving antiretroviral therapy, up 20 percent from 2010. This represents 54 percent of the estimated 15 million people who need treatment.
The United Nations has set a goal of ensuring universal access to treatment by 2015.
The United States provided 48 percent of the $16.8 billion in HIV/AIDS-related international assistance in 2011. Domestic investment by low- and middle-income countries reached a record high of about $8.6 billion, more than half the global response, according to the report.
HIGH RISK FOR YOUNG WOMEN
Despite the positive trends in the data, substantial challenges remain in combating HIV, particularly among young people, women and injecting drug users.
The annual rate of new infections among adults has remained stuck at 2.2 million since 2009, not far below its peak of 2.7 million in 2001.
Young people aged between 15-24 years accounted for 40 percent of all new adult infections in 2011, with an estimated 2,400 young people infected every day, the report said.
Young women in that age group, often less able to negotiate safe sex, have an infection rate twice as high as their male counterparts and account for 63 percent of all young people living with HIV.
An estimated 1.2 million women and girls were infected with HIV in 2011, with HIV the leading cause of death among women of reproductive age.
Among injecting drug users, only 4 percent of those living with HIV and eligible for treatment receive antiretroviral therapy.
The 140-page report, “Together We Will End AIDS”, outlines scientific and social factors that will govern future progress against HIV and AIDS.
There is a need to increase the capacity of low and middle-income countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, to produce quality antiretroviral drugs locally, avoiding costly imports, it said.
Other key measures that would encourage more people to access testing and treatment include reducing the stigma of HIV and reforming punitive laws that criminalise sexual relationships between men, HIV transmission and harm reduction measures for injecting drug users, such as clean-needle programmes.
JUMP IN AFRICANS ON ANTIRETROVIRALS
Of all people living with HIV globally, 23.5 million, more than two-thirds, are in sub-Saharan Africa.
The region also had the highest numbers of new HIV infections in 2011 - an estimated 1.7 million of the global total of 2.5 million cases. The majority of these infections resulted from unprotected sex, including with sex workers and sex between men, according to the report.
Sub-Saharan Africa also posted the highest number of AIDS-related deaths in 2011, accounting for 1.2 million of the 1.7 million deaths globally, but below the region’s peak of 1.8 million deaths in 2005.
There has been a dramatic improvement in the number of people receiving antiretroviral therapy in sub-Saharan Africa - 6.2 million in 2011 compared with just 100,000 in 2003.
More than half of people eligible for treatment were receiving it in 2011, with the greatest progress in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Kenya, according to the report.