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July 20, 2016

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Global AIDS study issues warning over pace of new HIV infections

SOME 2.5 million people are still becoming infected with HIV every year even as drugs have slashed the death rate and patients live longer than ever, a global AIDS study said yesterday.

New infections have plateaued after a steep dip from the peak rate of 3.3 million in 1997, said the authors of a comprehensive analysis in The Lancet HIV journal.

It was published to coincide with the International AIDS conference under way in Durban, South Africa, to assess progress in stemming an outbreak that has killed more than 30 million people since the 1980s.

The report paints “a worrying picture of slow progress in reducing new HIV infections,” according to lead author Wang Haidong of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington in Seattle, United States.

Peter Piot, director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and founding executive director of UNAIDS, said the figure was “staggering” and “means that AIDS is not over.”

“New infections of HIV in the world is probably the most disturbing factor that has been announced here in Durban.”

The situation could be worsened by funding shortages for HIV/AIDS programs and medicines. “In 2015, (funding) fell below the level spent in 2014, and in many low-income countries, resources for health are scarce and expected to grow slowly, if at all,” Wang told a press meet in Durban. “We must slow rates of new infection.”

IHME director Christopher Murray said in a statement a massive increase in effort from governments and international agencies was necessary to meet the estimated US$36 billion needed each year to realize the goal of ending AIDS by 2030.

In the past 15 years, countries have contributed US$110 billion in “development assistance” for HIV/AIDS programs.

Today, there are some 38.8 million people living with the AIDS-causing virus, a steady increase from 28 million in 2000 thanks to the advent in 1996 of life-prolonging antiretroviral therapy, or ART.

Annual AIDS deaths have declined from a peak of 1.8 million in 2005 to 1.2 million in 2015. There is no AIDS cure or vaccine. ART cocktails suppress the virus, enabling people to live long lives, though the drugs are expensive and can have side effects.

Use of antiretrovirals, for long the preserve of the rich, grew from 6.4 percent of infected men in 2005 to 38.6 percent ten years later, and from 3.3 percent to 42.4 percent for women over the same period, the study found.

Another factor that has helped cut the death rate was education and medicines to prevent infected women passing the virus onto their unborn children.

The study saw experts collate HIV data recorded from 1980 to 2015 for 195 countries.

In spite of advances, most countries are still far from achieving the UNAIDS goal of ensuring that by 2020, 90 percent of infected people will know their status, and 90 percent of those will receive ART.


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