Washington — Deaths from HIV/AIDS have declined, and new infections of the deadly virus have decreased while the dissemination of treatment is on a steadily upward trend.
The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) released these findings November 20 as a prelude to the commemoration of World AIDS Day on December 1.
The report - optimistically named "Results" - shows a more than 50 percent decrease in new HIV infections across 25 countries. The reductions in new infections were even more notable in some of those sub-Saharan African countries where the disease seemed unrelenting a decade ago. Malawi reduced new infections by 73 percent; Botswana, 68 percent; and Namibia, 58 percent.
"The pace of progress is quickening," said Michel Sidibé, executive director of the Geneva-based 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."
The overall case numbers for 2011 estimated in the latest UNAIDS report are:
• 34 million HIV/AIDS infections worldwide.
• 2.5 million new cases.
• 1.7 million AIDS-related deaths.
The total number of cases is at an all-time high, but new infections have declined by an estimated 700,000 since 2001, and deaths have declined by 200,000 over the 10-year period.
The new results come as the international AIDS community strives to reach 2015 targets set by the U.N. Political Declaration on HIV/AIDS. Meeting with a special focus on the HIV/AIDS pandemic in mid-2011, the U.N. General Assembly adopted a declaration to intensify the response to the disease by "promoting continued political commitment and engagement of leaders in a comprehensive response at the community, local, national, regional and international levels to halt and reverse the HIV epidemic and mitigate its impact."
The United States has provided almost 50 percent of international assistance that has allowed developing countries to make progress in slowing the spread of the disease and in distributing life-saving treatment. The United States has also been a major contributor to the Global Fund for AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, providing more than $7 billion to the Geneva-based organization, according to the Office of the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator (OGAC). The fund, in turn, works with individual governments to provide financing and develop local-level infrastructure to effectively distribute treatment and conduct testing.
When the United States and international donors began these efforts to address the pandemic, developing country governments lagged behind in their health care investments. The latest UNAIDS assessment shows considerable progress in that arena also, despite the slowdown that has slowed economic growth in many of the world's regions in recent years. Domestic investments from low- and middle-income countries surpassed global giving for HIV/AIDS in 2011 for the first time. The "Results" report says further that sub-Saharan African countries must take greater strides toward financing their own needs for care and treatment of people living with HIV/AIDS.
An estimated 6.8 million people are eligible for treatment and do not have access, according to the UNAIDS calculations. Of the 34 million people living with HIV, about half do not know they carry the virus, and therefore may still be likely to pass the virus to others. Creating greater access to testing and treatment can further help to contain the pandemic. Medical evidence shows that people under treatment are far less likely to convey the virus to partners.
In 2011, more that 8 million people living with HIV had access to antiretroviral medications, which can shut down the progress of the virus and prevent a person from developing full-blown AIDS. The United States supports about 4.5 million of those receiving treatment, according to OGAC. President Obama set a goal last year to boost the number of people being helped through U.S. programs to 6 million by the end of 2013, and OGAC reports U.S. efforts are on track to meet that goal.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was in South Africa earlier this year, visiting clinics where local efforts have yielded significant progress in extending treatment, testing and prevention.
"By taking the lead and continuing to increase its investments," Clinton said, "the South African government is ensuring that its national strategy will be sustainable, efficient and even more responsive to the specific needs of different communities and populations."
Clinton said the United States will work with "renewed determination" to reach the next goal for success against the pandemic - an AIDS-free generation.