The New Times (Kigali)

Rwanda's HIV Infection Rate Down 50 Percent - UNAIDS

Twenty five low- and middle-income countries, including Rwanda, have managed to halve their rate of new HIV infections since 2001, UNAIDS said in its annual report on the state of the global pandemic.

The UN body's World AIDS Day Report 2012 shows that in the last ten years, the landscape of national HIV epidemics has changed dramatically, for the better in most countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa.

Countries are making historic gains towards ending the AIDS epidemic: 700,000 fewer new HIV infections across the world in 2011 than in 2001, it says.

Rwanda, Gabon, and Togo, are some of the countries which achieved significant declines of more than 50%, according to the report.

"We are moving from despair to hope," Michel Sidibe, the Executive Director of UNAIDS, said in Geneva, pointing out that around half of all reductions in new HIV infections in the past two years had been among children.

"It is becoming evident that achieving zero new HIV infections in children is possible," he said.

Globally, new HIV infections fell to 2.5 million last year from 2.6 million in 2010 and represented a 20-percent drop from 2001, according to UNAIDS.

"The pace of progress is quickening. What used to take a decade is now being achieved in 24 months," Sidibe said.

Particular progress had been made in bringing down the number of children newly infected with HIV.

Last year, 330,000 children worldwide were infected with the virus that causes AIDS, down from 370,000 in 2010, and 43 percent fewer than in 2003.

And in sub-Saharan Africa -- a region that is today home to 90 percent of the world's infected youngsters -- the number of children newly infected with the virus dropped by 24 percent between 2009 and 2011 alone.

Sub-Saharan Africa has cut the number of people dying of AIDS-related causes by 32% between 2005 and 2011.

In 2011, 1.7 million people died from AIDS-related causes worldwide -- down 24 percent from 2005 and nearly six percent below the 2010 level, according to the report released ahead of this year's World AIDS Day marked on December 1.

Rwanda cut AIDS related death by 68%, Burundi by 51% while Kenya registered 71,000 fewer death and 48,000 in Tanzania, while Botswana one of the region's countries with smaller populations but high HIV prevalence cut AIDS-related deaths reduced by 71%.

Despite the general progress, however, the number of people living with HIV rose slightly last year to 34 million, up from 33.5 million in 2010, according to the report.

In sub-Saharan Africa the number of people dying from AIDS-related causes fell by 32 percent, or from 1.8 to 1.2 million, between 2005 and 2011.

While most of the world has made great strides in the battle against HIV and AIDS, UNAIDS lamented that Eastern Europe and Central Asia had seen a 21-percent hike in AIDS-linked deaths between 2005 and 2011, when 92,000 people died.

Overall, UNAIDS credited the drop in Aids-related deaths to greater access to antiretroviral therapy and the steady decline in HIV incidence since the peak in 1997.

The report lists Rwanda among five countries in the region that have achieved more than 80% coverage of HIV treatment. The others are Botswana, Namibia, Swaziland and Zambia.

Since 1995, antiretroviral therapy has saved 14 million life years in low- and middle-income countries, including nine million in sub-Saharan Africa.

On HIV testing, it says people seeking to know their status is growing.

In Rwanda for instance, nearly 39% of adult women were tested for HIV in 2010, compared to about 12% in 2005.

The report contends that scaling up voluntary medical male circumcision has the potential to prevent an estimated one in five new HIV infections in Eastern and Southern Africa by 2025.

Nevertheless, countries allocate relatively few resources towards this service-less than 2% of total HIV expenditure in six of the 14 priority countries where data is available.

But in six countries- Rwanda, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Uganda and Zimbabwe-less than 5% of the target number of men had been voluntarily circumcised by end of 2011.

In Kenya nearly 54% of adults in the Nyanza province have been circumcised and more than 20% in Ethiopia and Swaziland.

It paints grim picture on changing sexual behaviour. It notes that Rwanda is among the countries, where sexual risk behaviour is increasing, highlighting the need to intensify support for behaviour change efforts.

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