UN says AIDS epidemic slows, infections dropping
The global AIDS epidemic has slowed with a 20 percent decrease in new HIV infections over the past decade, the United Nations’ AIDS agency said Tuesday.
Despite claiming that the trajectory of the epidemic has been "broken," a report released Tuesday by the Geneva-based agency said that there are still 7,000 new infections each day, which means two people are still infected with the virus for every one starting treatment.
Worldwide, the agency said, 33.3 million people are infected with HIV.
In South Africa, which has more people than any other country with the virus that causes AIDS, the agency said new infections have reduced by more than 25 percent in the same time period. AIDS has posed major challenges to the developing nation, affecting an estimated 5.7 million people - a significant chunk of the work force - in the nation of some 50 million people.
Sheila Tlou, an Africa-based UNAIDS official, said that increased condom use, abstinence and improved awareness of AIDS, have contributed to the fall in infections in Africa. However, the report said sub-Saharan Africa, described by the World Health Organization as the "epicenter of the epidemic," continues to be disproportionately affected by the disease, bearing almost 70 percent of the global HIV burden.
"There is time for optimism, but with a purpose," Tlou told The Associated Press. She said that programming needs to focus on groups that are stigmatized by society and the government.
The report also noted the success of efforts to prevent mother-to-child transmission of the virus, and said it could be virtually eliminated by 2015.
"We can say with confidence and conviction that we have broken the trajectory of the AIDS pandemic. Less people are becoming infected. Less people are dying," UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibe told reporters in Geneva. "At least 56 countries have stabilized or significantly slowed down the rate of HIV infection."
The report also highlighted a worrying increase in infections among young men in North America and Western Europe, which the agency believes is a consequence of fewer precautions. Cases in the Middle East, Eastern Europe and Central Asia have almost tripled over the decade.
"The epidemic is far from over in North America and Western Europe," Sidibe said, adding that complacency has played a key role in Western Europe. "We don’t see anymore people dying with HIV ... A new generation are losing completely the sense of urgency for protection."
AIDS-related deaths have decreased by nearly 20 percent in the period from 2004 to 2009, as access to treatment has expanded. UNAIDS said 5.2 million people in poor countries were accessing lifesaving anti-retroviral drugs in 2009, compared to just 700,000 in 2004.