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The UN Says Major Strides Have Been Made to Eradicate HIV and AIDS

A new report says 15 million people with HIV are now on antiretroviral treatment, up from fewer than 700,000 people in 2000, and new HIV infection rates have fallen by 35 percent. But AIDS-related deaths are up in certain regions.

by Rachel Browne
Jul 14 2015, 5:30pm

Photo by Piyal Adhikaryepa/EPA

The world has exceeded the UN goal of reversing the spread of HIV around the world by the end of 2015, according to a new report from the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).

The 515-page report released today says that since the Millennium Development Goals were set in 2000, unprecedented strides have been made to eradicate HIV and AIDS: 15 million people with HIV are now on antiretroviral treatment, up from fewer than 700,000 people in 2000, and new HIV infection rates have fallen by 35 percent. The number of deaths related to AIDS has fallen by 41 percent. Combating AIDS, malaria and other diseases was one of eight goals UN member nations and other organizations pledged to address by this year.

The report comes on the heels of another UNAIDS report that highlights major gaps in HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention among certain countries, especially in Africa. Deaths related to AIDS have been rising in the Middle East, North Africa and parts of central Asia, as are HIV infections among gay men in North America and Europe. 

HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus, which is spread through bodily fluids and can lead to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, known as AIDS, if left untreated. There is no known cure but antiretroviral therapy has been shown to prolong the lives of people with HIV and decrease their chances of spreading it to others.

"Fifteen years ago there was a conspiracy of silence. AIDS was a disease of the 'others' and treatment was for the rich and not for the poor," said Michel Sidibé, UNAIDS executive director, in a statement. "We proved them wrong, and today we have 15 million people on treatment, 15 million success stories."

Back in 2000, these numbers seemed impossible as 8,500 people were becoming infected and 4,300 people were dying of the virus every day, the report says. Fewer than 1 percent of people with HIV in low and middle-income countries had access to treatment because it was prohibitively expensive, costing around $10,000 a year per person. By 2014, the cost was slashed by 99 percent to around $100.

Last month, Cuba became the first country to eliminate all new HIV infections among children. And more than 80 countries currently have fewer than 50 new HIV infections among children.

All of this means that the world is on track to eradicate AIDS by 2030, which is one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a new set of UN goals that replace the Millennium Development Goals, which expire at the end of this year. Other SDGs include ending extreme poverty and achieving gender equality by 2030.

But there's still much work left to be done in the fight against HIV/AIDS, especially in relation to LGBT people, sex workers, and intravenous drug users around the world, who are often ignored and discriminated against. And nearly half of people living with HIV do not know their status.

The report notes that HIV infections are rising among gay men in North America and Europe. "This indicates that HIV prevention efforts need to be adapted to respond to the new realities and needs of men who have sex with men," the report says. It adds that transgender people are typically excluded from public policy discussions as well as social services for HIV/AIDS and measures should be taken to eliminate gender-based violence and inequality.

A 2014 UNAIDS report found major gaps in treatment and prevention of HIV/AIDS in certain countries. Around 75 percent of the 2.1 million new HIV infections in 2013 occurred in just 15 countries such as Cameroon, Brazil, and Mozambique. Almost of of these new infections occurred in Nigeria, Uganda, and South Africa.

Follow Rachel Browne on Twitter: @rp_browne