New Prevention Tools Still Needed Urgently
In advance of the XVII International AIDS Conference in Mexico City, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) released their 2008 Report on the global AIDS epidemic, which indicated, among other things, that new HIV infections and AIDS-related deaths have declined in recent years. According to the new data, the number of people newly infected with HIV has fallen from 3 million in 2001 to 2.7 million in 2007. In addition, the total number of AIDS-related deaths worldwide has decreased slightly in the last two years—from 2.2 million to 2 million.
The report also highlights a six-fold increase in financing for HIV programs in low- and middle-income countries from 2001-2007, along with a ten-fold increase in the number of people receiving antiretroviral medicines in these countries. In terms of HIV prevalence, declines exceeded 25% in seven African countries, and most regions outside Africa remained relatively stable.
These figures are encouraging, and it is good news that the HIV/AIDS epidemic appears to be slowing, thanks in part to advances in treatment and prevention. But the number of people becoming newly infected with the disease each day—7,500—remains unacceptably high. While the percentage of adults infected worldwide has leveled off since 2000, the total number of people living with HIV has continued to increase to 33 million. And the AIDS epidemic is certainly not over in any part of the world.
Sub-Saharan Africa remained the most heavily impacted region by AIDS in 2007, accounting for 67 percent of all people infected with HIV and 72 percent of all AIDS-related deaths. HIV epidemics are also continuing to grow in China and Indonesia, as well as in high-income countries like Germany, Britain and Australia.
Current prevention methods, including campaigns to encourage condom use, abstinence, faithfulness, clean needles and male circumcision, are critical and must be sustained as part of a comprehensive response to AIDS. But at the same time, current prevention methods, the use and effectiveness of which is often limited by societal and economic barriers, will not by themselves eliminate AIDS from our midst. If we want durable and decisive progress, we need a more powerful weapon—an AIDS vaccine. The world will not be able to reach or treat everyone with antiretrovirals. Even today, for every two people who receive life-saving antiretroviral treatment, another five are newly infected. And without a vaccine, we will not be able to sustain escalating AIDS treatment costs.
The UNAIDS report underscores the fact that AIDS is a long-term issue that requires a long-term response and long-term financing. A quarter of a century since the discovery of HIV as the cause of AIDS, the sobering fact is that the end of this epidemic is nowhere in sight. In order to turn the tide on the epidemic, a new prevention tool, such as an AIDS vaccine, is desperately needed.
To access the full-length UNAIDS 2008 Report on the global AIDS epidemic, please click here.