Windhoek — A United Nations report reveals a more than 50 percent reduction in new HIV infections has been achieved across 25 low- and middle-income countries, including Namibia.
More than half of these countries are in Africa - a region affected the most by HIV/AIDS.
In some of the countries which have the highest HIV prevalence in the world, rates of new HIV infections have been cut dramatically since 2001 - by 68 percent in Namibia, 73 percent in Malawi, 71 percent in Botswana, 58 percent in Zambia, 50 percent in Zimbabwe and 41 percent in South Africa and Swaziland, a press release from the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) reveals.
"In addition to welcome results in HIV prevention, sub-Saharan Africa has reduced AIDS-related deaths by one third in the last six years and increased the number of people on antiretroviral treatment by 59 percent in the last two years alone. Sub-Saharan Africa is one of the most affected regions in terms of HIV/AIDS prevalence rates."
The report reveals that antiretroviral therapy has emerged as a powerful force for saving lives. In the last 24 months, the number of people accessing treatment increased by 63 percent globally. In sub-Saharan Africa, a record 2.3 million people have access to treatment. China has increased the number of people on HIV treatment by nearly 50 percent in the last year alone.
Furthermore, there were more than half a million fewer deaths in 2011 than in 2005.
The largest drop in AIDS-related deaths is being experienced in countries where HIV has the strongest grip. Neighbouring South Africa saw 100 000 fewer deaths, Zimbabwe nearly 90 000, Kenya 71 000 and Ethiopia 48 000 fewer deaths than in 2005. The report also indicates that impressive gains were made in reducing tuberculosis (TB) related AIDS deaths in people living with HIV.
The UNAIDS Executive Director, Michel Sidibé, in response to the report was quoted as saying the pace of progress is quickening. "What used to take a decade is now being achieved in 24 months," Sidibé said, adding that "we are scaling up faster and smarter than ever before. It is the proof that with political will we can reach our shared goals by 2015."
According to the Namibian National Sentinel Survey report of 2010, HIV prevalence among pregnant women attending antenatal care in Namibia was down to 18.8 percent compared to 22 percent - the highest peak during 2002. In Namibia, about 95 percent of people living with the HIV virus are on antiretroviral treatment.
There is also a reduction in new HIV infections in children. Half of the global reductions in new HIV infections in the last two years have been among newborn children. "It is becoming evident that achieving zero new infections in children is possible," said the UNAIDS executive director.
"I am excited that far fewer babies are being born with HIV. We are moving from despair to hope," Sidibé further said.
Despite the encouraging progress in stopping new HIV infections, the total number of new HIV infections remains high at 2.5 million, the report indicates.
It further outlines that to reduce new HIV infections globally a combination of HIV prevention services needs to be brought to scale. An example is scaling up voluntary medical male circumcision, which has the potential to prevent an estimated one in five new HIV infections in eastern and southern Africa.
Sidibé said UNAIDS would focus on supporting countries to accelerate access to HIV testing and treatment. "Now that we know that a rapid and massive scale-up is possible, we need to do more to reach key populations with crucial HIV services," said Sidibé. The report was launched in Geneva, Switzerland, on Tuesday ahead of the World AIDS Day commemoration.
World AIDS Day is commemorated on December 01, every year.