World Aids Day​: Good News and Challenges

All over the world, December 1st was the day to raise awareness of the HIV and those suffering with the consequences of having developed AIDS. In recent years, this date has been carrying a ring of optimism, and this year's observance offered some good news. Recent UNAID statistics have shown that since 2001 the rate of new infections has decreased by 33 percent, thanks to a combined effort of prevention and treatment. New research has raised hopes that a vaccine could become a reality sometime in the future.

However, in some parts of the world, worrying trends have also been registered by UNAID. The organization reports that new HIV infections have been on the rise in Eastern Europe and Central Asia by 13% since 2006. The Middle East and North Africa has seen a doubling of new HIV infections since 2001. In many cases lack of progress is due to inadequate access to essential HIV services. Key populations, including men who have sex with men, people who use drugs, transgender people and sex workers, are often blocked from accessing life-saving services.

As a virus that weakens the immune system, infected people are threatened by opportunist infections, which are the main reason those who have developed the disease die. “TB remains the leading cause of death among people living with AIDS. In 2012, 1.1 million people were co-infected with TB and HIV, and 320,000 people living with HIV died from TB according to the World Health Organization’s latest data,” said Lilly's Vice President of Global Health Programs and Access, Dr. Evan Lee.

He added that addressing the interaction between HIV and TB is a critical part of winning the global fight against AIDS. Although there has been an increase in access to antiretroviral treatment for patients co-infected with HIV and TB, in 2012 fewer than three in five people with both diseases were being treated. On a more positive note, UNAIDS reports that TB-related deaths among people living with HIV have declined by 36% since 2004.

By the end of 2012, an estimated 9.7 million people in low- and middle-income countries were accessing antiretroviral therapy, an increase of nearly 20% in just one year. In 2011, UN Member States agreed to a 2015 target of reaching 15 million people with HIV treatment. However, as countries scaled up their treatment coverage and as new evidence emerged showing the HIV prevention benefits of antiretroviral therapy, the World Health Organization set new HIV treatment guidelines, expanding the total number of people estimated to be in need of treatment by more than 10 million.

Image credit: WAD