Global fight against AIDS is at 'precarious point'

Henrietta Strickland
July 22, 2018

The report, launched by UNAids, says half of the people who are newly infected with the virus are not receiving the treatment they need to prolong their lives.

"We are sounding the alarm", Michel Sidibe, Executive Director of Unaids, said.

This helped boost the number of people living with the virus from 36.3 million in 2016 to 36.9 million a year ago. "We are not moving at the pace we had set ourselves", Sidibe told journalists.

The report, titled "Advancing global health and strengthening HIV response in the era of the Sustainable Development Goals" notes that world-wide there were about 20.9 million people on anti-retroviral therapy.

But for this, money is needed.

Experts said HIV funding had remained flat in recent years, at about £14.7bn - roughly £5.4bn short of the estimated amount needed to achieve the UNAids targets.

This was up eight percent from 2016. However, there had been "no significant new commitments ... and as a result the one-year rise in resources is unlikely to continue", it said. "There are miles to go in the journey to end the AIDS epidemic". Under Donald Trump, the U.S. administration - a major funder of the global AIDS response historically - has threatened to cut spending.

Since the start of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, more than 77 million people have become infected with HIV.

ART inhibits the virus and can limit its spread between people - mainly through sex - but does not kill it.

But UNAIDS warned the target may be at risk. The Lancet Commission report says if India took all proactive measures, including testing, anti-retroviral therapy and pre-exposure preventive treatment, in the vulnerable groups, it could hope to avert only about seven per cent of new HIV cases between now and 2028.

However, new HIV infections are rising in around 50 countries.

Hailing progress in curbing new infections and deaths, the agency nevertheless lamented the mounting human toll: nearly 80 million infections and 35.4 million lives lost since the first cases became known in the early 1980s.

In the Middle East and North Africa it was less than a third.

Sidibe said a failure to halt new infections among children was a big worry.

In Russia, he added, the epidemic "is becoming widespread".

Sidibe blamed punitive laws which, instead of offering drug users access to clean, uninfected needles, force them underground "hiding and infecting their partners".

Meanwhile, although 80 percent of pregnant women living with HIV had access to antiretroviral medicines to prevent transmission of HIV to their child in 2017, an unacceptable 180,000 children acquired HIV during birth or breastfeeding, which is far away from the target of fewer than 40,000 by the end of 2018. "Global funding has decreased and often this withdrawal affects prevention and treatment services to the key groups", Bekker said in an emailed response.

"We can win, but we haven't won yet", he said of the global battle.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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