Over the last decade, the rate of new HIV/AIDS infections has actually increased in 74 countries, according to a new Global Burden of Disease study released at the 21st International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
While the rate of new infections globally declined between 2005 and 2015, the rates in certain countries have steadily increased, calling for better prevention programs to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030.
While the global decline is good news, the study also showed that the rate of global decline has slowed over the last few years. New infections of HIV fell by an average of only 0.7 percent per year between 2005 and 2015, compared to the 2.7 percent drop per year between 1997 and 2005.
“If this trend of stubbornly high new infections continues, there will be significant challenged in meeting the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal for the world to witness the end of AIDS in less than 15 years,” said Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) Director Dr. Christopher Murray. “Everyone in the population health — researchers, policymakers, practitioners, pharmaceutical companies, advocates, and others — needs to understand that even if more people are living with HIV, we cannot end AIDS without stopping new infections.”
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The study did show some positive trends, though. There has been a decline in the number of deaths globally resulting from AIDS infections. The number of people receiving treatment has also risen from 6.4 percent among men in 2005 to 38 percent in 2015. The number among women was even higher with a nearly 40 percent increase in treatment over the same time period.
However, these numbers are still far off from global targets.
UNAIDS set the 90:90:90 targets to end AIDS, which called for 90 percent of people to know their HIV status, 90 percent of infected people to be on treatment, and 90 percent of those receiving treatment to have suppressed levels of the virus by 2020. At the current rates shown in the study, these targets are impossible to meet.
“This study shows that the AIDS epidemic is not over by any means and that HIV/AIDS remains one of the biggest public health threats of our time,” said Professor Peter Piot, director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and founding executive director of UNAIDS. “The continuing high rate of over 2 million new HIV infections represents a collective failure which must be addressed through intensified prevention efforts and continued investment in HIV vaccine research.”
Piot also stressed the urgency of the situation given today’s rapid population growth.
“There’s still an enormous burden of disease,” he said. “Some countries in Africa have the highest population growth in the world, and here we have the largest cohort of sexually active adults and adolescents coming up.”
More than 75 percent of new infections in 2015 across the infected countries included in the study were in sub-Saharan Africa, a direct correlation to population growth.
Despite the number of increased infections, more people affected by HIV/AIDS are living longer. IHME estimated that there were around 39 million people globally living with HIV in 2015, an increase from the 28 million in 2000.
“We’re keeping people alive longer, and these numbers should give those using [treatment] considerable hope,” said IHME Associate Professor Dr. Haidong Wang, lead author of the study.
These estimates in the study are key to strengthening accountability of promises made by politicians and policymakers in regard to specific HIV targets and improvements.
This study also shows more effective efforts are needed to combat the increasing number of infections, as well as additional funding for these efforts.
By working together to maintain the commitment to end AIDS by 2030, tangible progress can be made to achieve the goal of ending this worldwide epidemic.
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