New HIV infections down by half in 25 nations

New HIV infections down by half in 25 nations

POSTED: Friday, November 23, 2012 - 12:00pm

UPDATED: Friday, November 23, 2012 - 12:04pm

New HIV infections have dropped more than 50 percent in 25 low- and middle-income countries, according to a new World AIDS Day report by the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).

There were 700,000 fewer new infections last year than in 2001, according to the report "Results." More than half of the countries reporting fewer infections are in sub-Saharan Africa, the region with some of the highest number of HIV cases in the world. Infection rates have dropped dramatically in Malawi (73 percent), Botswana (71 percent), Namibia (68 percent) Zambia (58 percent), Zimbabwe (50 percent) and by 41 percent in Swaziland and South Africa, for example.

Along with these reductions, AIDS experts say the number of people getting antiretroviral treatment increased 63 percent in the past two years. Sub-Saharan Africa treated a record 2.3 million people, and the number of people treated in China jumped 50 percent last year.

AIDS-related deaths dropped more than 25 percent over the last six years, and countries with some of the highest HIV rates are seeing the biggest drops in mortality. There are also fewer, tuberculosis-related AIDS deaths are, according to the report, dropping 13 percent in the last two years.

"The pace of progress is quickening - what used to take a decade is now being achieved in 24 months," said Michel Sidibe, executive director of UNAIDS. "We are scaling up faster and smarter than ever before. It is the proof that with political will and follow-through, we can reach our shared goals by 2015."

Those goals, called the Millennium Development Goals, were established in 2000 when 189 countries pledged to accomplish eight goals -- including eradicating extreme poverty and hunger and reducing child mortality - by 2015. Combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases was another one of those goals.

The report found more than 81 countries have increased their own domestic investments in treatment and prevention by 50 percent over the last 10 years. Currently nearly half of all international HIV aid comes from the United States; along with the Global Fund for AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the United States provides much of the treatment dollars.

In the last two years, half of the new infection rate reductions have been in children, said Dr. Bernhard Schwartlander, director for evidence, strategy and results at UNAIDS. In fact, in the last 24 months, the number of children newly infected with HIV fell 40 percent in six countries.

"It is becoming evident that achieving zero new HIV infections in children is possible," said Sidibe. "I am excited that far fewer babies are being born with HIV. We are moving from despair to hope."

Last year, more than 34 million people around the world were living with HIV. A total of 2.5 million people became newly infected, and 1.7 million people died. According to the report, men who have sex with men, intravenous drug users and sex workers are still disproportionately affected by the disease.

Even though the news is encouraging, Sidibe says work remains to be done.

"UNAIDS will focus on supporting countries to accelerate access to HIV testing and treatment. Now that we know that rapid and massive scale-up is possible, we need to do more to reach key populations with crucial HIV services," said Sidibe.

World AIDS Day is December 1. 

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