WINDHOEK, NOVEMBER 21 – More than 18 million people now have access to life-saving AIDS treatment, 1.2 million more than at the end of last year, the United Nations said on Monday, warning, on the other hand, that girls aged 15 to 24, transitioning to womanhood, face many HIV-related challenges, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, and called for a life-cycle approach to finding solutions for everyone, at all stages of life.
“Young women are facing a triple threat,” said Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), in a press press release, “they are at high risk of HIV infection, have low rates of HIV testing, and have poor adherence to treatment.”
Launching in Windhoek, Namibia, a report entitled Get on the Fast-Track: the life- cycle approach to HIV, Mr. Sidibé and President Hage Geingob underscored that prevention is the key to ending the AIDS epidemic among young women.
The cycle of HIV infection needs to be broken. According to the report, presented ahead of World AIDS Day, marked annually on 1 December, recent data from South-Africa shows that young women are acquiring HIV from adult men, while men acquire HIV much later in life, after they transition into adulthood, and continue the cycle of new infections. The AIDS pandemic has infected 78 million people and killed 35 million since it began in the 1980s, and while consistently strong scale-up of treatment has seen annual AIDS-related deaths drop by 45 percent to 1.1 million in 2015 from a peak of about 2 million in 2005, as more HIV-positive people live longer, the challenges of caring for them as they get older, of preventing the virus spreading and of reducing new infections are tough even though drugs can reduce virus levels in a patient’s blood to near zero and significantly reduce the risk of passing it on.
On the background of this changing landscape Italy is doing its part to support initiatives like the Global Fund against AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. Since its inception at the 2001 G8 in Genoa, the Italian government contributed a total of more than a billion dollars, placing in the “top ten” among donors. At the end of July a new commitment worth 130 million Euros in three years (+30% compared to the previous three years) was approved: a pledge which was upped in September, at the yearly replenishing conference in Montreal, Canada, to 140 millions.
“The progress we have made is remarkable, particularly around treatment, but it is also incredibly fragile,” UNAIDS executive director Sidibe said as the report was published. With detailed data showing some of the many complexities of the HIV epidemic, the report found that people are particularly vulnerable to HIV at certain points in their lives. It called for “life-cycle” approach to offer help and prevention measures for everyone at every stage.
The report also warned of the risk of drug resistance along with the need to reduce second- and third-line treatment costs while emphasizing the need for more synergies with tuberculosis (TB); human papillomavirus and cervical cancer; and hepatitis C programmes to reduce illness and death among HIV-infected populations. In 2015, 440,000 of the 1.1 million people who died from an AIDS-related illness died from TB, including 40,000 children.
“The progress we have made is remarkable, particularly around treatment, but it is also incredibly fragile,” said Mr Sidibé. “New threats are emerging and if we do not act now we risk resurgence and resistance. We have seen this with TB. We must not make the same mistakes again,” he added. (@alebal)