As we commemorate World AIDS Day today, the global health community recognizes remarkable progress in treatment and prevention in the past three years while acknowledging the challenges that remain in the fight against AIDS. For example, although the rates of newly infected people have declined over the past decade and access to treatment rates has increased, the former still greatly outpaces the latter. For those the World Health Organization have deemed sick enough to require urgent treatment, only about half actually receive care. Still, UNAIDS reports that the “unparalleled global response of the past decade has already forced the epidemic into decline,” with a decrease in AIDS-related deaths amid “unprecedented funding” for HIV programs.
UNAIDS, the United Nations agency devoted to providing universal access to HIV prevention, treatment and care, reported over Thanksgiving that rates of new HIV infection have been steady over the past five years, with approximately 2.7 million newly infected people each year. In 33 countries, rates of new infection have declined; it is hoped that future rates of infection may be even lower, as a breakthrough study this year found that treatment reduced transmission from an infected person to their non-infected partner by as much as 96%. In Central Asia and Eastern Europe, however, the number of people living with HIV rose 250% during 2001-2010, and death rates continue to rise there even as they stabilize in other regions.
Progress continues to be made in the search for an HIV vaccine. The discovery of 17 unique antibodies with rare protective abilities against HIV by the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) and its partners earlier this year is one such success story, as scientists believe that this finding will be instrumental in creating an HIV vaccine.
While these developments are promising, sustained funding for HIV treatment may be adversely affected by the struggling global economy. For example, three days after the release of the UNAIDS annual report, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria announced that it would not be funding new grant programs until 2014.
As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in her speech on creating an “AIDS-free generation” earlier this month at the National Institutes of Health, setting such an ambitious goal may have been “unimaginable” in the past. But the knowledge and technologies we have today have given us the “route we need to take” to seize this historical opportunity in the fight against AIDS.
With an estimated 34 million people worldwide living with HIV, this year’s commemoration of World AIDS Day – 30 years since the discovery of HIV – reminds us of the scope and impact this pandemic has had on countless lives, the hope for new preventive measures and ultimately a cure, and the hard challenges that lie ahead to provide adequate prevention and treatment to all who require it.
For a CNN slideshow on “30 Years of AIDS Moments to Remember,” click here.