ARV pills © UNAIDS

For the first time in the world’s history, more than half the people living with HIV are on treatment, according to the latest Ending AIDS report by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).

The UNAIDS targets are that, by 2020, 90 percent of people living with HIV should know their status, 90 percent of these people should be on ARVs and 90 percent of people on treatment should have suppressed viral loads.

Released this morning (Thursday 20 July), the report notes that as of 2016, 19.5 million people were on antiretroviral treatment (ART), up from 17.1 million in 2015. Six out of 10 people on ART live in eastern and southern Africa.

Return on investment

“With science showing that starting treatment as early as possible has the dual benefit of keeping people living with HIV healthy and preventing HIV transmission, many countries have now adopted the gold-standard policy of treat all,” said UNAIDS executive director Michel Sidibé.

He said these efforts are bringing “a strong return on investment”. “AIDS-related deaths have been cut by nearly half from the 2005 peak. We are seeing a downward trend in new HIV infections, especially in eastern and southern Africa, where new HIV infections have declined by a third in just six years.”

The southern and eastern African region is the most affected by HIV. Despite having the largest ART programme in the world, South Africa’s treatment coverage – 56 percent of all people living with HIV – was below the regional average of 60 percent. Botswana (83 percent) and Rwanda (80 percent) had the highest treatment coverage in the region.

Viral load testing technology

Although South Africa has some way to go to increase access to treatment, the country has played a significant role in making viral load testing available in developing countries, according to the report. This test is important to check that the HIV medication is working to suppress the virus in the blood.

“This expansion is partly the result of South Africa leveraging its market weight to reduce viral load test prices globally,” noted the report. An agreement entered into between the South African government and the drug company Roche has led to a number of different countries being able to afford to buy the technology including Ethiopia, Kenya and Nigeria.

“But our quest to end AIDS has only just begun. We live in fragile times, where gains can be easily reversed,” said Sidibé. “The biggest challenge to moving forward is complacency.” – Health-e News.