The number of new HIV infections "has dropped by about one-fifth over the past decade but millions of people are still missing out on major progress in prevention and treatment," according to the annual UNAIDS report released Tuesday, Agence France-Presse reports. "In 2009, 2.6 million people contracted the HIV virus that causes AIDS, a decline of 19 percent over the 3.1 million recorded in" 1999 the report found, according to the news service (11/23).
AIDS-related deaths also fell by nearly 20 percent over the past five years, according to a UNAIDS press release. An estimated 1.8 million people worldwide died from AIDS-related illnesses in 2009 compared to the roughly 2.1 million that died of similar causes in 2004, the release states (11/23).
The report, which was based on HIV data obtained from 182 countries and includes country-by-country comparisons, found that "[a]mong young people in 15 of the most severely affected countries, the rate of new HIV infections has fallen by more than 25 percent, led by young people adopting safer sexual practices, according to UNAIDS," CNN writes (11/23).
Though "[s]ub-Saharan Africa continues to be the region most affected by the epidemic, with around 70% of all new HIV infections occurring here ... infection rates are falling, particularly in South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Ethiopia," according to the BBC (11/23).
VOA News writes of how the report documents positive trends in the prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PTMCT) of HIV, as described by Bernhard Schwartlander, director UNAIDS' evidence, strategy and results department. "Fewer children are being born with HIV," Schwartlander said. "New infections among infants have dropped by 24 percent in the last five years. And in 2009, we estimate that this number stands at 370,000, which of course is still the target to be overcome," he added, according to the news service (DeCapua, 11/23).
"We are breaking the trajectory of the AIDS epidemic with bold actions and smart choices," UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibe said in a UNAIDS press release. "Investments in the AIDS response are paying off, but gains are fragile -- the challenge now is how we can all work to accelerate progress," he added (11/23).
The report found that "[m]ore than 1.2 million people began taking anti-HIV drugs last year, an increase of 30 percent, as the number of new infections declined for a 12th straight year," Bloomberg writes (Bennett, 11/23).
U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator Ambassador Eric Goosby "said the report was 'welcome news' to those fighting the AIDS epidemic," Reuters reports. "'It demonstrates that success can be achieved in the battle against AIDS,' he said in a statement. But he too added that the fight was 'far from over,'" according to the news service.
"[W]hile more than 5 million of those who need life-saving AIDS drugs are getting them, around two-thirds of the 15 million people in poorer countries who need them cannot get them. Marginalized groups like drug users and sex workers are far less likely to get help than others," according to the report, Reuters adds. The news service also notes that new HIV infections continue to outpace those placed on treatment by a measure of two to one (Kelland, 11/23).
The Los Angeles Times examines other worrisome trends outlined in the report: "In Eastern Europe and Central Asia, the number of people living with HIV almost tripled from 2000 to 2009, climbing to 1.4 million people. Russia and Ukraine are particular problem areas, accounting for nearly 90% of all new infections in the region." The article notes how HIV in the region "is concentrated primarily among drug abusers, sex workers and, to a lesser extent, gay males" (Maugh, 11/23).
HIV/AIDS experts also cautioned that recent gains in the global fight against HIV/AIDS highlighted in the annual UNAIDS report could be at risk due to the current economic climate, Reuters writes. In an interview with Reuters, UNAIDS' Sidibe "said he was worried about a slowdown in growth of funds to fight AIDS, with international donor investment flattening for the first time in 2009, and about significant barriers for marginalized groups such as drug users in getting the HIV prevention and care services they need," the news service writes. "UNAIDS said there was an estimated $15.9 billion available for the global AIDS response in 2009, $10 billion short of the estimated need."
"Demand is outstripping supply. Stigma, discrimination and bad laws continue to place roadblocks for people living with HIV and people on the margins," Sidibe said (11/23).
The Los Angeles Times, also examining funding challenges, describes a recent report published in the BMJ that suggested ways countries could continue investing in global HIV/AIDS programs despite tightening budgets. The Los Angeles Times adds that "Eric Goosby, U.S. global AIDS coordinator, said in a statement that this country has been stretching its funding through a variety of approaches, including switching from air transportation for medications to ocean and land transport and increasing the use of generic drugs." The article also quotes A. Cornelius Baker, an AIDS expert on the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (11/23).
A Reuters factbox highlights key findings from the UNAIDS 2010 report (Kelland, 11/23).
This article was reprinted from kaiserhealthnews.org with permission from the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent news service, is a program of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonpartisan health care policy research organization unaffiliated with Kaiser Permanente.