2011: Turning Point in World AIDS Pandemic?

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Nov. 21, 2011 — World AIDS deaths and new HIV infections have each dropped 21% since the peak of the AIDS pandemic, according to the latest United Nations report.

It’s the most optimistic report since the beginning of the epidemic. For the first time, the U.N. Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) is able to point to trends going in the right direction.

One major factor is that life-saving HIV treatments got to 1.35 million more people in 2010 than in 2009. In low- and middle-income nations, these treatments have saved 2.5 million lives since 1995.

“We have seen a massive scale-up in access to HIV treatment, which has had a dramatic effect on the lives of people everywhere,” Michel Sidibe, executive director of the U.N. AIDS program, says in a news release.

Even so, 53% of people who need HIV/AIDS treatments — 7.6 million people — can’t get them. That’s one reason why there were 1.8 million AIDS deaths in 2010.

Another reason is that there are now 34 million people living with HIV. And just in the last year there were 2.7 million new infections.

Still, the decrease in deaths and new infections means the AIDS pandemic is at a tipping point. Wise investment now can save millions of future deaths, the UNAIDS report argues.

“The world faces a clear choice: Maintain current efforts and make incremental progress, or invest smartly and achieve rapid success in the AIDS response,” the report suggests.

There are six parts to the UNAIDS plan:

  • A focus on key populations at risk in each nation, particularly on sex workers and their clients, men who have sex with men, and people who inject drugs.
  • Eliminate HIV infections among children by treating pregnant women with HIV.
  • Behavior change programs.
  • Condom promotion and distribution.
  • Treatment, care, and support for people with HIV infection.
  • Voluntary medical male circumcision in nations with high HIV prevalence.

“Just a few years ago, talking about ending the AIDS epidemic in the near term seemed impossible, but science, political support, and community responses are starting to deliver clear and tangible results,” Sidibe says in a foreword to the new report. “To reach these targets and bring the end of AIDS in sight we must step on the accelerator.”

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