WHO: HIV Progress Includes 15% Drop in New Infections

Emma Hitt, PhD

November 30, 2011

November 30, 2011 — Increased access to HIV services has resulted in a 15% reduction of new infections during the past decade and a 22% decline in AIDS-related deaths in the last 5 years, according to a report released today by the World Health Organization (WHO).

The new report, "Report on the Global HIV/AIDS Response," emphasizes the benefits of sustaining investment in HIV/AIDS for the longer term, according to a press release from WHO. The report represents the joint effort of WHO, United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) in collaboration with national and international partners.

"It has taken the world 10 years to achieve this level of momentum," noted Gottfried Hirnschall, MD, MPH, director of WHO's HIV Department, in the release. "There is now a very real possibility of getting ahead of the epidemic. But this can only be achieved by both sustaining and accelerating this momentum over the next decade and beyond."

According to new data presented in the report, improved access to HIV testing services have enabled 61% of pregnant women in eastern and southern Africa to receive testing and counseling for HIV, representing an increase from only 14% in 2005.

In addition, in 2010, 48% of pregnant women in need received antiretroviral therapy (ART), thereby decreasing the risk for mother-to-child transmission of HIV. The report also found that ART is now available for 6.65 million people in low- and middle-income countries, or 47% of the 14.2 million people eligible to receive it.

Investment in HIV services could lead to total gains of up to $34 billion by 2020 in increased economic activity and productivity, the report indicates, and this would more than offset the cost of providing ART to people who need it.

Although great strides have been made, the report also indicates areas for improvement. "More than half of the people who need antiretroviral therapy in low- and middle-income countries are still unable to access it," the WHO news release states. "Many of them do not even know that they have HIV." 

In addition, some programs around the world are not effectively tailored for those in need. "In many cases, groups including adolescent girls, people who inject drugs, men who have sex with men, transgender people, sex workers, prisoners and migrants remain unable to access HIV prevention and treatment services," WHO notes.

Women are now disproportionately affected with HIV: Nearly two thirds of those aged 15 to 24 years living with HIV today are women, and in sub-Saharan Africa, women make up 71% of all young people living with HIV, "essentially because prevention strategies are not reaching them," according to the news release. In addition, only about 25% of children in low- and middle-income countries received ART in 2010 compared with about half of adults.

The report also discusses specific data pertaining to various regions around the world, including sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe and Central Asia, the Middle East and North Africa, and Latin America and the Caribbean.

According to WHO, several initiatives are underway to sustain the global HIV response through the next 10 years. For example, a WHO, UNICEF, and UNAIDS "elimination initiative" aims to eliminate new HIV infections among children by 2015 and keep their mothers alive. In addition, WHO is developing new guidance on the strategic use of antiretroviral drugs for both prevention and treatment.

The full report is available on the WHO Web site.

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