Harare –The world is poised to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030 – provided it can accelerate the pace of progress achieved globally over the past 15 years, according to a new World Health Organization (WHO) report.
Already, much has been achieved. This year, the Millennium Development Goal that called for halting and reversing the spread of HIV on a global basis was met.
By 2014, the number of HIV deaths was reduced by 42% – from a peak of more than 2 million in 2004 to an estimated 1.2 million.
Since 2000, an estimated 7.8 million lives have been saved, fewer people are acquiring HIV, and projections of an end to the epidemic by 2030 – a goal once considered unattainable by many experts – are now realistic, according to the WHO report, Global Health Sector Response to HIV 2000-2015.
The rapid scale-up of access to antiretroviral therapy (ART), one of the greatest public health achievements in recent times, has made treatment available to more than 16 million people living with HIV across the globe. Today, more than 11 million people in the WHO African Region alone are receiving HIV treatment, versus about 11 000 who were taking the medications 15 years ago. That is a thousand-fold increase.
Yet more must be done. Globally 60% of all people living with HIV have not yet enrolled in antiretroviral treatment.
“In the last 15 years, new HIV infections have reduced by 41% in the African Region, more than in any region in the world,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa. “But the number of people acquiring HIV infection is still too high and young women and adolescent girls continue to be disproportionately at risk.”
Recent findings from clinical trials have confirmed that the early and expanded use of antiretroviral treatment saves lives by keeping people living with HIV healthier and by reducing the risk that they will transmit the virus to partners.
In September, that confirmation led WHO to recommend that all people living with HIV start ART as soon as possible after diagnosis.
At ICASA, WHO is presenting a set of recommendations to enable countries to expand treatment to all — rapidly and efficiently. These recommendations include using innovative testing strategies to help more people learn they are HIV positive; moving testing and treatment services closer to where people live; starting treatment faster among people who are at advanced stages of HIV infection when they are diagnosed; and reducing the frequency of clinic visits recommended for people who are stable on ART.
“WHO’s new implementation guidelines showing how to treat all people living with HIV and decrease new infections are transformative,” said Dr Deborah Birx, US Global AIDS Coordinator. “Short of an HIV vaccine or cure, this gives us the critical tools we need to create an AIDS-free generation with the Fast Track Strategy. We must seize this moment and chart a bold course together to end the AIDS epidemic as a public health threat.”