‘AIDS changed everything’

Patients with an undectable viral load are less likely to pass the infection onto others.
This UNAIDS infographics charts the path towards the world’s newest goal: To have all people living with HIV in need of treatment on antiretrovirals by 2030

“As you read this sentence, three new people will access life-saving HIV treatment for the first time,” said Michel Sidibé, UNAIDS Executive Director.

He described reaching the goal as “one of the greatest achievements in the history of global health, financing and development”.

This is the sixth of the Millenium Development Goals (MDG) adopted in 2000, when only around 700 000 people were on ARVs, and a mere 10 000 from the worst affected countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

In 2000, a year of ARV treatment cost $10 000 (around R124 000) and people had to take eight pills a day. Thanks to massive global activism and scientific progress, the cost has been reduced to $100 (R1 240) and one pill a day.

UNAIDS praised South Africa, noting that our life expectancy has increased by 10 years (from 51 in 2005 to 61 by last year) “on the back of a massive increase in access to antiretroviral therapy”.

“South Africa has the largest HIV treatment programme in the world, with more than 3.1 million people on antiretroviral therapy, funded almost entirely from domestic sources. In the last five years alone, AIDS-related deaths have declined by 58 percent in South Africa,” said UNAIDS at the launch in Addis Ababa of its book, “How AIDS changed everything”.

World meets target just months shy of deadline

[quote float = right]It has been a turning point for the recognition of health as a human right. And it has brought extraordinary results on treatment and prevention alike”

Internationally, new HIV infections have fallen by 35 percent and AIDS-related deaths by 41 percent. Some 30 million new HIV infections and nearly 8 million (7.8 million) AIDS-related deaths have been prevented since 2000.

By last year, almost three-quarters of pregnant women with HIV had access to ARVs, and new HIV infections among children had dropped by 58 percent. This year, Cuba became the first country to be certified by the World Health Organisation as having eliminated new HIV infections among children

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that “the AIDS response has been like no other. From the start it has put the focus on people and put their needs first. It has been a turning point for the recognition of health as a human right. And it has brought extraordinary results on treatment and prevention alike.

“None of this could have happened without the leadership of people living with HIV and the partners on the ground around the world who believed that we could effectively fight stigma—and who made sure that we did,” added Ban.

“The activism of the AIDS response has brought important lessons for our future work across the development agenda. We now realise the importance of the full physical, emotional, sexual and mental health of the individual. We also recognise that we must have the courage to address difficult issues affecting society—human rights, education, security, the law, gender equality and social inclusion.”

The UN aims to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030, according to the draft Sustainable Development Goals currently on the global agenda as a replacement for the MDGs.

Back in 2000, 8 500 people were becoming infected with HIV every day and 4 300 people were dying of AIDS- related illnesses.

Reversed epidemics

Between 2000 and 2014, new HIV infections dropped from 3.1 million to 2 million, a reduction of 35 percent. The 83 countries that account for 83 percent of all people living with HIV, have halted or reversed their epidemics, including South Africa, India, Kenya, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.

“In 2000, fewer than one percent of people living with HIV in low- and middle- income countries had access to treatment, as the sky-high prices of medicines put them out of reach. The inequity of access and injustice sparked global moral outrage, which created one of the most defining achievements of the response to HIV—massive reductions in the price of life-saving antiretroviral medicines,” said UNAIDS.

“By 2014, advocacy, activism, science, political will and a willingness by the pharmaceutical companies has brought the price of medicines for HIV down by 99 percent, to around US$ 100 per person per year for first-line formulations.”

But challenges remain. Last year, only slightly more than half the people living with HIV knew that they were infected. In addition, the criminalisation of same sex relationships in 76 countries makes it hard to reach gay men who are particularly vulnerable to HIV infection. – Health-e News.

An edited version of this story was also published on IOL.co.za


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