UN records massive rise in number of people receiving HIV treatment

HIV/AIDS patient lies in bed at a clinic. UN Photo/Martine Perret

19 July 2010 – The number of people receiving life-saving HIV treatment has soared by more than 1 million to 5.2 million, marking the largest jump ever, but donor contributions for AIDS efforts have flatlined because of the global economic downturn, two new United Nations reports have found.

The sharp rise last year in the number of people receiving treatment “is an extremely encouraging development,” said Hiroki Nakatani, Assistant Director-General for HIV, Tuberculosis, Malaria and Neglected Tropical Diseases of the UN World Health Organization (WHO), which released one of the two new studies today.

At the global XVIII International AIDS Conference under way in Vienna, the agency also appealed for earlier treatment for people living with HIV before they become ill due to their weakened immune systems.

“Starting treatment gives us an opportunity to enable people living with HIV to stay healthier and live longer,” said Gottfried Hirnschall, Director of HIV/AIDS at WHO.

HIV-related deaths can be reduced by 20 per cent between 2010 and 2015 if guidelines for treatment are broadly implemented, helping to prevent infections such as tuberculosis, the number one cause of death for people with HIV. WHO noted that deaths from TB can be curbed by up to 90 per cent if people living with both HIV and TB begin treatment earlier.

Despite the surge in number of people receiving treatment, the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) found in a new report that global support for AIDS efforts have flattened as the world experienced a large-scale recession.

Last year, the Group of Eight (G8) industrialized nations, the European Commission (EC) and other donor governments gave $7.6 billion for AIDS relief in developing countries, down slightly from $7.7 billion in 2008.

“Reductions in investment on AIDS programmes are hurting the AIDS response,” Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of UNAIDS, said.

“At a time when we are seeing results in HIV prevention and treatment, we must scale up, not scale down,” he stressed.

The UNAIDS report, released jointly with the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), found that 2009 funding levels ended a run of annual double-digit percentage increases in donor support since 2002.

Addressing the start of the international AIDS conference in Vienna yesterday, Mr. Sidibé spotlighted the strides made in the fight against HIV.

“The conspiracy of silence has been broken,” he said, adding that 5 million people “are alive because of treatment.” Additionally, infection rates have dropped 17 per cent since 2001.

But the UNAIDS chief expressed that he is “scared by what I see today,” with prevention models not having the anticipated results, some governments cracking down on vulnerable groups and costs on the rise.

“Meanwhile, 10 million people are waiting for any treatment at all,” he said. “We have evidence that in too many countries, too many clinics that gave people treatment and hope now have to turn people away, including pregnant women who risk passing the virus to their babies.”

Also voicing his concern over obstacles in conquering the epidemic was Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who underlined in a video message that “we must ensure that our recent gains are not reversed.”

He called for additional resources in areas that have “been neglected for far too long,” especially maternal health, and highlighted the strong ties between AIDS and efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), eight anti-poverty targets with a 2014 deadline.

“So let us say again,” Mr. Ban emphasized. “No new HIV infections. No more discrimination. No more AIDS-related deaths. Health and development for all.”

He told conference participants that universal access to HIV treatment “must remain our beacon.”

For its part, the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) underscored that the voices of HIV-positive women are largely absent from the decision-making process in the HIV/AIDS response.

The agency said in a new report that nearly half of the 31.3 million people living with HIV in the world are women, but their proportion is increasing.

Although women are often on the front line of the epidemic and are among those most affected, their engagement in finding solutions is restricted due to gender norms, the lack of access to information, illiteracy and the burden they bear of caregiving and multiple responsibilities in the home.

“Through our work on the ground we have repeatedly heard the voices of women as they provide concrete examples of what can work on the ground in preventing or reducing the epidemic,” said Inés Alberdi, UNIFEM’s Executive Director.

The report lays out a roadmap for government, donors, civil society and others to ensure women’s participation, including monitoring the full and active participation of people living with HIV, with special attention to women living with the virus.

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has found that an underground HIV epidemic in Eastern Europe and Central Asia is intensifying at an alarming pace, fuelled by drug use, high-risk sexual behaviour and high levels of social stigma.

In a new publication, the agency found that marginalized young people are exposed daily to multiple risks, including drug use, commercial sex and other forms of exploitation and abuse, putting them at much higher risk of contracting HIV. The region is home to 3.7 million injecting drug users, almost one quarter of the world’s total, and for many, initiation into drug use begins in adolescence.


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