UN Reports Progress Against HIV in Poor Countries
WASHINGTON (AP) - A push to get more AIDS treatment to the world’s poorest, hardest-hit countries is paying off as deaths inch down - and new infections are dropping a bit, too, the United Nations reported Wednesday.
"I personally believe it is a new era, new era for treatment, new era for prevention," said Michel Sidibe, executive director of UNAIDS, the Joint United Nations Program on HIV and AIDS.
Some 34.2 million people worldwide were living with the AIDS virus at the end last year, a slight rise from the previous year as better treatment helps patients live longer.
Most of them live in low- and middle-income countries, where a record 8 million people received life-saving drugs last year, the report found. That’s up from 6.6 million in 2010, and puts the world on track to meet a U.N. goal of having 15 million people in those hard-hit regions on treatment by 2015.
The report comes days before the world’s largest AIDS conference opens in the nation’s capital with the goal of finally "turning the tide" on the epidemic and stemming the spread of the HIV virus.
Treatment is one of the keys to doing that because it doesn’t just save the lives of people living with HIV. Recent research shows early treatment, so patients stay healthy, also makes them far less likely to infect others.
"We need to get that number up as rapidly as possible," said Chris Collins of amFAR, the Foundation for AIDS Research, who called the 2011 increase in treatment higher than expected. "If we can get to scale with AIDS treatment, we’re not only saving lives but we’re preventing infection and beginning to end this epidemic."
The UNAIDS report found there were 1.7 million deaths from the virus last year, down from 1.8 million.
Better, the new data show 2.5 million people became infected with HIV last year - 100,000 fewer than in 2010. New infections have fallen by nearly 20 percent worldwide in the past decade.
Perhaps most encouraging is the steady drop in new infections in children, mostly due to treating HIV-infected pregnant women so they don’t pass the virus to their babies. About 330,000 children became infected in 2011, almost half the number that were being infected at the epidemic’s peak in 2003.