AIDS Epidemic: Progress Toward a Resolution

Caitlyn Fitzpatrick

World AIDS Day is recognized each year on December 1, and while it's a time to applaud the progress made in recent years, it also highlights the challenges that lay before us.

World AIDS Day is recognized each year on December 1, and while it’s a time to applaud the progress made in recent years, it also highlights the challenges that lay before us.

“The Millennium Development Goal of reversing the HIV epidemic was reached ahead of the deadline — an incredible achievement that testifies to the power of national action and international solidarity,” Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO), said in a statement.

The HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) epidemic peaked in 2004 and since then, the number of deaths has reduced by 42%. The 7.8 million lives saved over the last 15 years can be credited to multiple factors, including focus on prevention and treatment expansion.

“The sense of urgency that was the norm during the disease’s most-destructive years must not be allowed to abate,” said Winnie Mpanju-Shumbusho, WHO’s assistant director general.

In September 2015, world leaders at the UN General Assembly announced the goals of reducing the number of new HIV infections by 75% by 2020, doubling the amount of those receiving antiretroviral therapy (ART) by 2020, and ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030. Progress has already been made in achieving these milestones.

Preventive measures have effectively lowered the amount of new HIV infections by 35% since 2000, according to a new WHO report. For one, pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is a new option to lower the risk of transmitting the disease. In addition, medications used to treat those with HIV help inhibit pregnant women from transmitting the virus to their infants. Of the 22 countries that make up 90% of new HIV infections, eight of them have already reduced the number of children infected with the virus by 50%.

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Treatment is also a crucial part of ending the AIDS epidemic. As of 2000, only 11,000 of people with HIV in Africa had access to ART. There has been a dramatic jump since then with more than 11 million people on treatment. In June 2015, nearly 16 million people out of the 37 million living with HIV worldwide were receiving ART.

“WHO applauds government, civil society, and organizations that have made availability of life-saving antiretroviral therapy possible in the most trying circumstances. The new recommendation to expand ART to all people living with HIV is a call to further step up the pace,” Mpanju-Shumbusho acclaimed.

The AIDS epidemic may not be over yet, but with the implementation of preventive efforts and expansion of ART access there is already noticeable progress; and ending the epidemic altogether by 2030 is not all that farfetched.

“HIV remains a major health challenge — drawing sharp attention to health system weaknesses and gaps in universal health coverage. Addressing these issues will be critical to meeting the new global targets for AIDS,” Mpanju-Shumbusho concluded.

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