AIDS epidemic can be controlled by 2030, eventually eradicated - UN

Wednesday 16 July 2014 18.29
Global AIDS-related deaths fell to 1.5 million in 2013
Global AIDS-related deaths fell to 1.5 million in 2013

The United Nations has said new HIV infections and deaths from AIDS were decreasing, making it possible to control the epidemic by 2030 and eventually end it "in every region, in every country".

Global AIDS-related deaths fell to 1.5 million in 2013, 200,000 fewer than the previous year.

In a report on the state of the pandemic, UNAIDS said the death toll was now more than a third below the peak hit in 2005, when 2.4 million died.

"More than ever before, there is hope that ending AIDS is possible. However, a business-as-usual approach or simply sustaining the AIDS response at its current pace cannot end the epidemic," the UN AIDS programme UNAIDS said.

A global report will be issued at an AIDS conference in Melbourne, Australia next week.

It said the number of people infected with HIV was stabilising at around 35m worldwide. The epidemic had killed 39m of the 78m people it has affected since it began in the 1980s.

"The AIDS epidemic can be ended in every region, every country, in every location, in every population and every community," Michel Sidibe, the director of UNAIDS, said in the report.

"There are multiple reasons why there is hope and conviction about this goal."

The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that causes AIDS can be transmitted via blood, breast milk and by semen during sex, but can be kept in check with cocktails of drugs known as antiretroviral therapy or ART.

UNAIDS said that at the end of 2013, some 12.9m HIV positive people had access to antiretroviral therapy - a dramatic improvement on the 10m who were on treatment just one year earlier and the 5m in 2010.

Since 2001, new HIV infections have fallen by 38%, it said. AIDS-related deaths have fallen by 35% since a peak in 2005.

"The world has witnessed extraordinary changes in the AIDS landscape. There have been more achievements in the past five years than in the preceding 23 years," UNAIDS said.

"More than ever before, there is hope that ending AIDS is possible. However, a business-as-usual approach or simply sustaining the AIDS response at its current pace cannot end the epidemic."

The UN report said ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030 would mean the spread of HIV was being controlled or contained, and that the impact of the virus in societies and in people's lives had been reduced by significant declines in ill health, stigma, deaths and the number of AIDS orphans.

"It means increased life expectancy, unconditional acceptance of people's diversity and rights, and increased productivity and reduced costs as the impact diminishes."

According to UNAIDS, $19.1bn was available from all sources for the AIDS response in 2013, and the estimated annual need by 2015 is currently between $22bn and $24bn.

Mr Sidibe said the international community should seize the opportunity to turn the epidemic around.

"We have a fragile five-year window to build on the rapid results that been made. The next five years will determine the next 15," he said.

In 2011, UN member states agreed to a target of getting HIV treatment to 15m people by 2015.

As countries scaled up treatment coverage, and evidence showed how treating HIV early also reduces its spread, the World Health Organisation (WHO) set new guidelines last year, expanding the number of people needing treatment by more than 10m.

Jennifer Cohn, medical director of the access campaign for the charity Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), said millions of HIV positive people still do not get the drugs they need.

"Providing life-saving HIV treatment to nearly 12 million people in the developing world is a significant achievement, but more than half of people in need still do not have access," she said.

"We know that early treatment helps prevent transmission of HIV and keeps people healthy; we need to respond to HIV in all contexts and make treatment accessible to everyone in need as soon as possible."