When is good news actually just bad news that’s slowly getting less bad? This is case with the global HIV/AIDS epidemic. All the latest statistics show that the rate of infection is slowing down, not just this past year but for the last few years.
Since its peak around the turn of the century, annual HIV infection numbers are down by 19%. But even so, there were an estimated 2.6 million people infected in 2009. That is millions of new families, communities, workplaces and social circles thrown into the cycle. Many of them do not even know it.
The downward trend has been achieved by massive, expensive efforts to teach, inform, support and treat. If these efforts are not sustained, we could see a backlash. We have evidence from some communities that this can happen with ease. The homosexual community is the USA was one of the first groups effected by HIV/AIDS and they were also pioneers in safe sex education. But a few years into the epidemic, when efforts were undermined by disinterest as the prospects improved, rates began shooting up again and the outcome is evident today.
Women and girls now constitute more than 50% of all HIV carriers and AIDS patients. Until recently HIV/AIDS was more prevalent in males, showing us that there is a higher level of new infection among females than males. This also indicates the unavoidable connection between HIV and physical and economic security.
The latest global estimates (2009) place the total number of people living with HIV at 33.3 million, which means that 0.8% of the entire adult population is HIV positive. In 2009, experts calculated that 2.6 million people got infected with HIV and 1.8 million AIDS deaths occurred.
But There’s Good News…
New cases of HIV are down in all age groups. Teens are demonstrating better knowledge of safe sex facts and are indicating fewer infections. Mother-to-child infection rates are down about 50% since 2001.
HIV prevention is working! During this past decade, HIV infection rates have fallen by at least 25% in 33 countries, including many of the counties with the worst epidemics, such as South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Nigeria and Ethiopia. Although there are regions (Eastern Europe and Central Asia) that have not yet turned around the infection trend, the global picture shows an overall decrease in new cases.
The medical technology necessary to care for HIV/AIDS patients is spreading from the West to the poorer countries. 5 million people are now receiving HIV antiretroviral therapy. In the 5 years from 2004-2009, there was a 13-fold increase in the number of people receiving treatment. In 2009 alone, the number of people receiving therapy increased by a whopping 30%.
Therapy is not only essential to keep HIV carriers alive, healthy and active members of society, but it tells the general population that there is a great reason to go and get tested for HIV, because a positive diagnosis is not a death note. Once there is some light at the end of the AIDS tunnel, people will take more responsibility and there will be less denial, which is a real killer.
Treatment 2.0 – a new approach to simplifying the way that HIV treatment is given – is about to take off. This will make treatment, which is today rather complicated – much simpler and will reduce costs and burden on health care programmes. This will lead to millions of lives being saved and many more millions who will have better quality of life for many more years.
AIDS deaths are down. This is particularly optimistic when we see that children below age 15 have a 19% lower risk of death than they did just 5 years ago, thanks to antiretroviral treatment.