SEATTLE — A new report issued by the United Nations Program on HIV and AIDS (UNAids) has ascertained that the average HIV-positive patient now holds a life expectancy of 55 years, a 19 year increase from a previous study conducted in 2001.
The United Nations cited this substantial advancement in the battle against HIV/AIDS as the result of lower cost medical treatments, specifically antiretroviral drugs used to fight HIV, and stronger access to medical personnel and treatment facilities.
The report notes that while a year of antiretroviral treatments cost an estimated $14,000 in 2000, the same drugs now cost less than $100 today.
As opposed to the year 2000, when fewer than 700,000 HIV patients had access to antiretroviral drugs, officials now report that over 15 million people hold access to this form of treatment.
Executive Director Michel Sidibé of UNAids commended this notable progress in a recent interview. Sidibé stated, “Reaching 15 million people with antiretroviral therapy is one of the greatest achievements in the history of global health, financing and development.”
Director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine Peter Piot recently emphasized the necessity of shifting the focus of HIV/AIDS prevention efforts to regions deemed high-risk for infection. He stated, “We must face hard truths – if the current rate of new HIV infections continues, merely sustaining the major efforts we already have in place will not be enough to stop deaths from AIDS increasing within five years in many countries.”
UNAids estimated that between 34.3 and 41.4 million people across the planet are currently living with HIV. While the United Nations reports that over 25 million of these cases were recorded within the population of Africa, health officials are reminding the public of the progress achieved to date.
With an estimated 48% decrease in the number of AIDS-related deaths in Sub-Saharan Africa in the past fifteen years, many experts have expressed cautious hope that the globalized efforts to combat this pandemic have finally gained the upper hand.
Sidibé also noted in his interview, “The last decade has been about scale-up, really massive scale-up, and this could only happen with country leadership, community resilience and a shared vision of getting to zero.”
UNAids has also reported that the number of new people infected each year by HIV decreased from 3 million in 2001 to 2 million in 2014, and that deaths from the virus decreased by over 800,000 in the same period of time.
Global funding for the fight against HIV/AIDS has also sharply increased in the past two decades, more than quadrupling from $4.9 billion in 2001 to $21.7 billion in 2015, according to the United Nations.
While noting that the international community has reached significant achievements in combating HIV/AIDS, HIV and Tuberculosis Adviros at Médecins San Frontières Sharonann Lynch has emphasized the urgency of now focusing treatment and prevention efforts on developing regions.
Lynch explained, “We can’t lose sight of the fact that more than half of the people living with HIV still do not have access to treatment. In some countries where we work, HIV treatment coverage is as low as 17%, which stands in stark contrast to the UNAids goal of 90% treatment coverage and much more attention needs to be paid to these neglected contexts.”
The report also notes the remarkable efficacy of programs created specifically to treat certain populations considered at high-risk for contraction of HIV/AIDS and geographic regions that have demonstrated a high prevalence of it.
Commending the revolutionary response approach to the HIV/AIDS pandemic, Editor-In-Chief of Lancet and co-author of the report Dr. Richard Horton noted that “The movement created by the AIDS response is unprecedented—a system of checks and balances from a people-centered approach is one that more global health institutions should adopt.”
The Sustainable Development Goals, which are renewed public health and development objectives designed by the United Nations to replace the outgoing Millennium Development Goals, have called for the elimination of the AIDS epidemic by the year 2030. The new goal specifically mandates that every person across the globe infected with HIV must have sustainable access to antiretroviral drugs and all new AIDS-related infections and deaths must drop below 200,000 cases per year by 2030.
Sources: The Guardian 1, The Guardian 2, Unaids.org
Photo: The Hindu