|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
PRESS CONFERENCE TO LAUNCH 2008 REPORT ON GLOBAL AIDS EPIDEMIC
Substantial increases in HIV prevention were producing results, but more effort was needed to turn back the epidemic, Peter Piot, Executive Director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), said at Headquarters today.
At a press conference to launch the Programme’s “most positive” report in the past 14 years, Mr. Piot said more had been achieved in the fight against AIDS in the last two years than in the preceding two decades. There had been a substantial increase in prevention efforts and treatment, including in a number of heavily affected countries, and the number of new infections had fallen from 3 million to 2.7 million worldwide.
He cautioned, however, that the epidemic was not over in any part of the world, and AIDS remained the leading cause of death in Africa. While showing positive large-scale results for the first time, the world needed, now more than ever, to continue the efforts, otherwise all previous investments would be wiped out.
Highlighting some of the report’s main findings, he said some countries had seen a tripling of HIV-prevention efforts in populations that traditionally had been either neglected or difficult to reach. For example, in the 39 reporting countries, the coverage of sex workers was now 60 per cent on average. In Eastern Europe and Central Asia, there was 47 per cent coverage of injecting drug users. Among men who had sex with men, there was 40 per cent coverage for the 27 countries reporting.
According to the report, young people now waited longer before having sexual intercourse, he continued. In Cameroon, for example, the percentage of young people having sex before the age of 15 had fallen from 35 per cent to 14 per cent. Young people were also reported to have fewer sex partners and condom use had increased significantly. The percentage of HIV-positive pregnant women receiving antiretroviral drugs to prevent mother-to-child transmission had risen from 14 per cent to 33 per cent in just two years. In the same period, the number of new infections among children had dropped from 410,000 to 370,000.
Among other good news, he highlighted the fact that 33 million people were now receiving antiretroviral treatment in the developing world, asking: “Who would have thought that five years ago?” Women, on average, had better access to antiretroviral treatment than men in Africa, particularly due to the increased availability of testing and prenatal services. The number of AIDS-related deaths was declining. However, there were still five new infections for every two people put on treatment, so the gap between those in need of treatment and those with access to treatment was widening.
Also speaking to the press were the heads of two co-sponsors of UNAIDS: Kemal Derviş, Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP); and Thoraya Obaid, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).
Focusing on the implications of the report for women and young people, Ms. Obaid underscored the urgent need to scale up prevention and education efforts, adding that sustained progress was also needed in addressing violations of the human rights of people living with HIV/AIDS, gender inequality, stigma and discrimination. As more people received treatment and lived longer, the issue of financing became even more important. The budgets for HIV must meet the target of universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support.
Discrimination remained a barrier to prevention and access to treatment for most at-risk populations, she said. Young people were an important target group, considering that, last year, 35 per cent of all new adult infections had occurred among people aged 15 to 24. They required accurate and comprehensive information about protecting themselves from infection. Information on HIV/AIDS must be integrated into both formal and informal education systems. To be really effective, it must also be placed in a real socio-cultural context.
She pointed out that, while there had been a significant increase in the number of people with access to antiretroviral drugs, about two thirds of HIV-positive women lacked access and it was of critical importance to reach that group. Ongoing work to link HIV/AIDS services with reproductive health services was particularly important in that regard.
Mr. Derviş said that, progress notwithstanding, many high-prevalence countries were still losing between 0.5 and 1.5 per cent of their economic growth to HIV/AIDS. Many were also encountering labour-force problems as a result of the epidemic. The fight against HIV/AIDS was part of UNDP’s anti-poverty programmes and was reflected in its governance- and human-rights-based approach to development, including the delivery of public services to all populations, irrespective of social status, sexual preferences and other features. Women’s empowerment was also very important for the fight against HIV/AIDS. Together with other agencies, UNDP was focusing 2008 on violence against women in crisis and post-crisis situations, which was also critical.
Asked about gathering information from “closed societies”, Mr. Piot said the key to success was establishing good relations with vulnerable populations. For example, all over Asia, there was now an HIV epidemic among men who had sex with men. Programmes were being initiated to address that situation, but that could only be done by working with affected communities.
Responding to a question about the allocation of funds from the $48 billion Global Leadership on HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria Reauthorization Act that President George W. Bush was expected to sign tomorrow, he said the decision was to be made by the United States Congress. The good news was the disappearance of some of the ineffective conditionality of the previous law, such as allocation of funds to “abstinence only” programmes.
In response to a question about the financing needed to combat HIV/AIDS globally, he said: “We are still falling short in terms of the needs.” The problem was that the epidemic was particularly severe in Africa, the poorest region of the world, and external support would continue to be required. Needs were not expected to decline in the near future, because all 33 million people living with HIV today would eventually need treatment. However, “if we do a good job on prevention, then, after a while, the needs are going to go down”. That would take several decades. The truth was that, without a substantial increase in funding, the epidemic would not disappear.
Ms. Obaid added that, for 2007, $10 billion had been available for HIV, but within that amount, there was already a funding gap of $8.1 billion between the resources available and the resources needed. At the current pace, the world would miss the 2020 target of universal access to prevention, treatment and care. Funding levels would have to be increased by 50 per cent by 2010 just to fund the current level of programmes.
Mr. Derviş said the financing effort must be looked at in a wider context. For example, there were great shortages of nurses in some African countries and greater flexibility was needed on the donor community’s part on what to finance.
Asked to elaborate on his statement that the 2008 report was “most positive”, Mr. Piot said previous reports had contained “all bad news”. In fact, during the 2001 special session on HIV/AIDS, there had been a whole-night discussion on whether the final resolution should contain any reference to access to treatment. Most countries had insisted that “it’s impossible, because it is impossible and therefore it’s impossible”. While some of the arguments presented then were still valid, had the world waited until those were fixed, most of the people currently on treatment would have been dead by now. Thus, the report presented today showed good progress.
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