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Progress on HIV, and work to do

July 19, 2012

A record number of people in poorer countries take antiretroviral drugs to treat HIV, according to data released Wednesday by UNAIDS. Worldwide deaths dropped to 1.7 million in 2011 from 2.3 million in 2005.

Street art in Soweto in Johannesburg, SOuth Africa
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Now, 54 percent of the 14.8 million people who need antiretrovirals in poorer countries have access to them, according to the figures released in Washington ahead of the International AIDS Conference next week. According to the report, the advance "puts the international community on track to reach the goal of 15 million people with HIV receiving treatment by 2015."

Another highlight is the drop in antiretorviral costs, from $10,000 per person in 2000 to less than $100 in 2011. The UN is also talking with pharmaceutical companies about how to improve access to lower-cost versions of simpler HIV treatments that combine several drugs in a single pill.

"But access is not universal," UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibe said. "We still have a problem with access in Asia, in Eastern Europe, Central Asia so we need to redouble the effort."

In Western and Central Europe and North America, with extensive access to antiretrovirals, annual AIDS-related deaths have totaled about 30,000 for a decade.

Positive signs, but challenges ahead

Infections in children were also down about 24 percent from 2009 to 2011.

The UN estimates that about 34 million people have HIV, 3.4 million under 15. About 2.5 million were infected worldwide last year, 330,000 of them children.

HIV remains the leading cause of death for women of reproductive age; females 15-24 face rates double those of males in that group. About 1.2 million women and girls became infected last year, according to the report. Nearly 60 percent of the 1.5 million pregnant women living with HIV in poor countries received effective anti-AIDS medications last year, to lower their chances of infecting their babies.

Eighty-one countries have increased domestic funding by over 50 percent between 2006 and 2011. Poorer countries invested $8.6 billion last year, up 11 percent over 2010. International funding remained flat since 2008, at $8.2 billion. Worldwide investment in HIV totaled $16.8 billion last year, up 11 percent from 2010, but still far short of the $22-24 billion needed by 2015, according to the report.

Nearly half (48 percent) of all international assistance for HIV response last year came from the United States, which is hosting the July 22-27 scientific meeting that is expected to draw 25,000 people. US AIDS Coordinator Eric Goosby said reducing the impact of the disease worldwide was a priority for the government and called for nations to step up their involvement in local programs.

mkg/rc (AFP, Reuters, AP, DPA)