Monday, June 05, 2006
HIV infection rates stabilise
New Scientist reports:
The incidence of new HIV infections appears to have stabilised for the first time in the 25-year history of AIDS, although the global pandemic will still have a deep, long-term impact, a new UN report said on Tuesday.
The world is making progress against the disease, thanks to a massive increase in spending, better access to drugs and growing awareness. But huge problems remain, the UN agency coordinating the fight against HIV and AIDS has warned.
In its report, issued on the eve of a UN General Assembly session on the disease, UNAIDS underlined the dangers caused by prevention programmes which it said in many countries were still far off-target and inaccessible to millions of people.
"Overall, the HIV incidence rate – the proportion of people who have become infected with HIV – is believed to have peaked in the late 1990s and to have stabilised subsequently, notwithstanding increasing incidence in several countries," UNAIDS said in its report, Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic.
However, the agency warned that there was no room for complacency. "We know what needs to be done to stop AIDS. What we need now is the will to get it done," the report said.
AIDS has killed more than 25 million people since it was first recognised in 1981, while the HIV virus which precedes the disease has infected 65 million people over the same period.
In 2005 AIDS claimed the lives of 2.8 million people and over 4.1 million were newly infected with HIV, according to the report. By contrast, in 2003, the UN estimated that 4.8 million were newly infected with HIV.
An estimated 38.6 million people were living with HIV at the end of 2005, the vast majority of whom were unaware that they were infected, it added. The UNAIDS report is based on detailed country-by-country estimates that the Geneva-based agency carries out once every two years.
It pointed to "important progress" over the past five years, in the wake of a landmark 2001 UN summit which laid down targets for halting – and starting to reverse – the AIDS epidemic by 2015.
However, there is still "extraordinary diversity" in the epidemic, with a mixture of success and failure, it said. Sub-Saharan Africa remains by far the worst-affected region, being home to two-thirds of all people living with HIV.
Two million people died of AIDS in the region in 2005 and there were 2.7 million new infections. While the epidemic in South Africa – one of the worst in the world – showed no evidence of a decline, other African countries nonetheless made major progress.
HIV prevalence fell in Kenya and Zimbabwe, as well as in urban areas of Burkina Faso. "In the rest of sub-Saharan African, the majority of epidemics appear to be levelling off", said UNAIDS.
Elsewhere, there were declines in Cambodia and Thailand, but prevalence rose in China, Indonesia and Vietnam. India overtook South Africa as the world's worst-affected country in terms of the absolute number of people with HIV, although not as a proportion of the population. Epidemics in the former Soviet Union also spiralled.
Access to drugs
Global resources for the fight against AIDS reached $8.3 billion in 2005 – well within the range fixed by the UN summit in 2001. But annual needs are set to reach $22 billion by 2008, UNAIDS said.
Access to antiretroviral drugs in developing nations has improved, it said. About 1.3 million people were receiving them in 2005 – up from 240,000 people in 2001. But that figure was still less than half the goal of three million set by the UN.
In a grimmer assessment, UNAIDS said that less than one in five people in the world who risked HIV infection had access to basic prevention such as condoms and other safe sex measures, or programmes specifically aimed at helping drug users or prostitutes.
In addition, only one in eight people worldwide who want to be tested for HIV are currently able to be so. Scaling up prevention and treatment could avert 29 million new infections by 2020, UNAIDS said.