Today is World AIDS Day, a day for us to celebrate the incredible accomplishments that have been made in the combat against HIV/AIDS, and also a day for us to remind ourselves how important it is to continue these efforts.
UNAIDS has just reported that AIDS-related deaths fell 21% from their 2005 peak, and globally the number of new HIV infections in 2010 was down 21% from their 1997 level.
In sub-Saharan African the progress has been particularly noteworthy. This is an amazing achievement that resulted from the spread of preventive measures accompanied with dedication to long-term treatment.
The decrease in the number of new HIV infections represents an important step in fight against HIV/AIDS, as UNAIDS director Michel Sidibe remarks:
‘The big point for us is the number of new infections – that’s where you win against the epidemic.’
A main reason cited for falls in both AIDS-related death and new HIV infections is the increase in access to treatment. In sub-Saharan Africa, between 2009 and 2010 there has been a 20% rise in people undergoing treatment.
In particular, The UNAIDS report suggests that Botswana, Namibia and Rwanda have achieved universal access to treatment, which is defined as coverage of more than 80%. Swaziland and Zambia have also achieved coverage levels of between 70 and 80%. In a region that is most affected by the epidemic, this represents a significant milestone in the combat against HIV/AIDS.
An expansion in accessibility in treatment also lowers the likelihood of new infections, propelling an important virtuous cycle. The battle therefore goes beyond the need to development suitable treatments, to improving the health care systems as a whole to ensure more people can not only access the treatment, but also benefit from long-term health monitoring and recovery supports.
With international efforts dedicated to the fight against HIV/AIDS, Tido von Schoen-Angerer, from Medecins Sans Frontieres, believes that
‘Never, in more than a decade of treating people living with HIV/AIDS, have we been at such a promising moment to really turn this epidemic around.’
However, in the midst of this promising moment and hopeful progress, the news of the Global Fund canceling its Round 11 of grant-making is a grim reminder that commitments from both the public and private sectors are lacking.
This could severely jeopardize the incredible progress that has already been made. Almost one quarter of the money used to fight HIV/AIDS comes through the Global Fund, meaning that a severe funding gap not only threatens new programs that could reach wider communities, but also the effectiveness of existing treatments. This is because if treatments with antiretroviral drugs, or ARVs, are stopped, there is a high chance of viral rebound and immune decompensation, which effectively means the failure of the immune system. Many of the efforts we have made would be in vain.
Never before has the progress been more promising in the fight against HIV/AIDS, and never before have we needed more support to sustain this incredible progress. We cannot afford to lose the grounds that have been gained. As the executive director of the Global Fund Michel Kazatchkine says,
‘Now is not the time to abandon millions of people who are still in need.’
This is why we are asking you to write to your MP, to show the government we support their stance on international aid and ask them to set an example to other governments by doubling their funding to the Global Fund.