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UNAIDS and WHO Revise Stats on Global AIDS Epidemic

November 21, 2007

Despite downward revision on HIV/AIDS prevalence data, epidemic requires a vaccine

New York, November 21, 2007 – In advance of World AIDS Day Dec. 1, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have released new AIDS epidemic statistics reflecting substantial revisions from prior estimates. According to these new figures, the global prevalence, or percentage of people living with HIV, has leveled off and the global HIV incidence, or the number of new HIV infections per year, peaked in the late 1990s at more than three million. Last year, UNAIDS and the WHO reported that 39.5 million people were living with HIV. The revised estimates indicate that 33.2 million people are now living with HIV.

In response to these revised estimates, IAVI CEO and President Dr. Seth Berkley said:

“We at IAVI are encouraged by the prospect that there are fewer people living with HIV/AIDS and fewer people getting infected annually than previously thought. Even with the revised estimates, however, AIDS remains the fourth leading cause of death globally and the primary cause of death in sub-Saharan Africa. According to the revised estimates, some 33 million people are infected with HIV today; only a minority of them have access to life-prolonging anti-retroviral treatment. 

“Each year, the number of people living with HIV worldwide continues to increase. Last year alone, UNAIDS and the WHO estimated 2.5 million individuals were newly infected with HIV. The good news is this number represents a decrease over the revised estimates for prior years. Assuming this trend is real, according to UNAIDS and WHO, it is likely due both to natural trends in the epidemic, as well as behavioral changes brought on by prevention efforts.

“Behavioral changes alone, however, can be difficult to sustain. Uganda and the U.S. have both had the experience of seeing the rate of new infections drop, and then rise back up again, presumably as people resume old habits. Current prevention methods are critical, and those responsible for their success deserve enormous credit. At the same time, the reality is that current prevention methods—including campaigns to encourage abstinence, faithfulness, condom use, clean needles and male circumcision—have limitations for a variety of reasons. In the regions hardest hit by the epidemic, there are sometimes societal and economic barriers. Any prevention method that depends on constant compliance by individuals is naturally going to be limited. On the other hand, we know from experience with past epidemics that a preventive vaccine is the ultimate prevention technique.  

“As we approach World AIDS Day on December 1, we must renew our commitment to a comprehensive response to the AIDS pandemic. This includes expanded access to treatment and existing prevention methods, as well as a stronger focus on new prevention technologies, most especially an AIDS vaccine, the one intervention that can eliminate AIDS from the map. We know from history that no major viral epidemic has been defeated without a vaccine. IAVI is committed to accelerating the development of a preventive AIDS vaccine and ensuring its availability for those who need it most.” 

Click here to access the UNAIDS/WHO AIDS Epidemic update