|Thembi Ngubane, 19, with her daughter at home in the township of Khayelitsa in Cape Town, South Africa. Thembi is HIV-positive but her daughter remains HIV-negative, thanks to Thembi’s participation in an AIDS prevention programme.|
By Chris Niles
NEW YORK, 29 July 2008 – The ‘2008 Report on the global AIDS epidemic’, released by UNAIDS today, reveals that fewer people are dying of AIDS than in previous years and fewer are becoming infected.
“The results are encouraging,” said UNICEF’s Chief of HIV/AIDS programmes, Jimmy Kolker.
“Putting people on treatment has worked,” he added. “It means that people are living longer and the prevention messages seem to be getting through, although there are still huge challenges for preventing new infections.”
UNAIDS, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, brings together 10 UN agencies – including UNICEF – to help prevent new HIV infections, care for people living with HIV and mitigate the impact of AIDS worldwide. Through its global reports, UNAIDS releases updated AIDS figures every two years.
Increase in access to treatment
This year’s UNAIDS report is at the halfway mark between the 2001 UN General Assembly Declaration of Commitment to combat AIDS and the deadline for the Millennium Development Goal to reverse the epidemic by 2015.
A six-fold increase in international funds since 2001 has helped to ensure that more people have access to life-saving AIDS treatment. But the UNAIDS report says progress is uneven and the future course of the disease is far from certain.
The report notes that AIDS cannot be reversed without reducing the rate of new infections. To this end, programmes aimed at prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission have seen enormous progress in the last two years.
Focus on early testing
“The percentage of women in lower- and middle-income countries who’re able to access prevention treatment for their infants has increased from 9 per cent in 2004 to 33 per cent in 2007, which is dramatic,” said Mr. Kolker.
At the same time, however, the number of children who are newly infected has gone down only slightly – dipping to 270,000 in 2007, compared to about 300,000 the preceding year – according to UNAIDS.
“The focus this year should be on integrating services,” Mr. Kolker said, adding that UNICEF’s priority will be to establish a continuum of health care for women and children – with a particular focus on being able to test for HIV at an early age.
‘Challenge to our generation’
Another priority for UNICEF will be the more than 2 million young people between the ages of 15 and 24 who are living with HIV.
Among this group, rates of infection have not fallen and knowledge about HIV prevention remains disturbingly low. Only about 40 per cent of teenagers in low- and middle-income countries are able to correctly answer five simple questions about how AIDS is caused and how to prevent it.
“We had set a target in 2001 of over 90 per cent by this year, so we’re far behind in just basic knowledge about HIV,” said Mr. Kolker. He pointed out that UNICEF is working with its partners to identify young people who are at risk and develop ways to reach them.
“The lower number of AIDS deaths is a sign that we’re on the right track, but there are millions are dying every year, and 33 million people living with HIV. So it really is a huge challenge to our generation,” said Mr. Kolker.
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