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AIDS Report Says Infections Slowing
July 19, 2012

By Charlene Porter
IIP Staff Writer
July 18, 2012

A pharmacist prepares a prescription for a patient outside the window
This clinic in Kenya is providing antiretroviral therapy to this mother of three who has been HIV-infected since 2006.

The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) reports that 34.2 million people worldwide were living with HIV in 2011, while a decline in the rate of new infections has slowed the spread of the disease.

UNAIDS released its latest findings about the scope and size of the epidemic July 18, just days before the largest international meeting focused on the disease is set to begin in Washington. The XIX International AIDS Conference is set for July 22–27, with an expected 25,000 people working on or living with the disease attending, representing almost all nations of the world.

For the first time, UNAIDS reports that the aggregate amount of domestic spending to address HIV/AIDS exceeds the funding international donors have provided to assist hard-hit nations. Eighty-one countries boosted their domestic investments for HIV/AIDS by more than 50 percent over the five-year period ending in 2011, according to the report Together We Will End AIDS.

UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé said that one finding marks the beginning of a new era in treatment and prevention of the disease. “It is a moment for shared responsibility, certainly mutual accountability and global solidarity,” he said as he presented the findings during a briefing at UNAIDS headquarters in Geneva.

A positive trend first spotted in 2010 continued through 2011, with 56 countries reaching stable or declining rates of new HIV infections. The report said new infections have declined by almost 20 percent in the last 10 years, with 100,000 fewer infections in 2011 than in 2010.

“I am as optimistic as I’ve been in 30 years,” said U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator Eric Goosby, who has been working with HIV cases since the early identification of the virus among homosexual men in San Francisco. Goosby, who has helped implement HIV/AIDS national treatment expansion plans in South Africa, Rwanda, China and Ukraine, also participated in the Geneva briefing.

Steadily expanding availability of antiretroviral treatment (ART) for people living with HIV/AIDS has been a key reason for the decline in new infections. Researchers have found that the drug treatment contains the virulence of the virus in the bloodstream and, at the same time, reduces the patient’s ability to infect another person during intimate contact.

Goosby oversees the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which has been a key mechanism for delivering ART treatment to increasing numbers of people since its inception in 2004. In 2011 alone, more than 3.9 million men, women and children received treatment with U.S. assistance, about half of all those receiving treatment worldwide.

Goosby said the program’s success in working with host governments to reach and treat at-risk populations has been critical to slowing the spread of the epidemic.

“That has also moved us to focusing on high-impact interventions in the prevention arena like male circumcision,” said Goosby, also citing expanded efforts to prevent transmission of the virus from pregnant mothers to newborns.

Since 2004, the United States has devoted about $45.7 billion to PEPFAR, which assists nations experiencing the greatest suffering from HIV/AIDS, many of them in sub-Saharan Africa. The administration of former President George W. Bush initially proposed the program as a five-year, $15 billion effort. With solid congressional support, the Obama administration has sustained and increased that level of funding.

The terrible toll of HIV/AIDS is borne not just by the infected, but by their families, children and communities. Young adults are the most frequently affected, and their illness drains their capability.

PEPFAR, in collaboration with governments in more than 80 countries, has helped 13 million AIDS-affected people with care and support. These are the children and families of HIV-infected persons who are often young adults, so ill that they lose their ability to provide for themselves and their families and contribute to their communities. PEPFAR supported more than 4 million orphans and vulnerable children in 2011 alone.

U.S. funding for international HIV/AIDS assistance in 2012 is more than $6.6 billion, about 48 percent of all international assistance for the disease, according to UNAIDS.

Sidibé and Goosby also saluted the nations of the African Union, which launched its “Roadmap for Shared Responsibility and Global Solidarity for AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria in Africa.” At a summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, AU leaders adopted the plan July 17 as a major step forward in the region’s responses to these diseases.