Welcome and warning after revised estimates on AIDS pandemic

Welcome and warning after revised estimates on AIDS pandemic

By staff writers
22 Nov 2007

Campaigners have welcomed revised estimates of the global AIDS pandemic published yesterday by the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the World Health Organization (WHO) but cautioned that funding levels for tackling HIV/AIDS were still far too low, and that there was still much to be done.

The report shows that sub-Saharan African countries are home to 68% of the people living with HIV worldwide. According to the new data, eight countries in the region comprise almost one-third of all new HIV infections and AIDS deaths globally, and HIV/AIDS remains the leading cause of death in the region.

"We welcome any indication that fewer people are living with HIV, whether it is through more accurate statistics or because a strong response in some areas is making a positive impact," said Linda Hartke, coordinator of the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance. "But in no way can we relax our efforts. HIV remains a devastating disease not just for individuals, but for families, communities and nations," she said.

Africa Action also warned that the new report should not be misinterpreted to indicate that current funding levels and the international response are adequate to address the pandemic.

“We certainly appreciate not only the advances in collecting data on individuals living with HIV/AIDS but also the obvious successes brought by international and national investments in treatment and prevention,” said Gerald LeMelle, Executive Director of Africa Action.

“However, the number of new HIV infections remains staggeringly high, and AIDS continues to kill close to two million Africans each year who lack access to lifesaving treatment. More resources are still needed to continue to scale up treatment and comprehensive prevention programs to meet international demand, to build on recent successes and to effectively employ this new data.”

The UNAIDS/WHO report puts the number of annual new HIV infections at 2.5 million, a cut of more than 40 percent from last year's estimate.

The worldwide total of people living with HIV – estimated a year ago at nearly 40 million – now will be reported as just over 33 million.

Though the numbers of new infections are falling, the total number of HIV positive individuals continues to rise.

Africa Action called for at least $50 billion over the next five years in US funding for the reauthorization of the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) to expand comprehensive prevention programs, support the US fair share of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and achieve the promise of universal treatment access.

“Civil society groups across Africa remind us that the numbers used to estimate those living with HIV/AIDS must take into account the lack of testing in many areas and the stigma that prevents many of those who are HIV positive from coming forward. In countries that are running out of burial space and where morgues are so overwhelmed that they have to stay open for twenty-four hours for fear of the bodies piling up, these new statistics offer little consolation,” said Marie Clarke Brill, Deputy Director of Africa Action.

“What is needed now is action from the US and the international community to commit the resources to achieve universal access to treatment.”

According to the report, the revisions came mainly from better measurements rather than from fundamental shifts in the pandemic. The UNAIDS/WHO report shows that reductions in new infections among young people in a number of countries and the reduction in deaths from AIDS globally can to a large part be attributed to increased comprehensive evidence-based prevention and treatment efforts.

The complete revised estimates are available at:
http://www.unaids.org/en/HIV_data/2007EpiUpdate/default.asp

Keywords: africa | africa action | aids | hiv
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