The beginning of the end of AIDS

Is it possible that the success Africa has had, in managing and treating HIV/AIDS, reduced the sting of the HIV pandemic on the continent? The fact is, according to UNAIDS’ latest report, there are more people living with HIV today than there were 10 years ago. Approximately 34 million people live with HIV today, up 17 percent from 2001. In parallel, deaths from AIDS-related illnesses have decreased by 21 percent since 2005.

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This is chiefly because there is better access to antiretroviral drugs in sub-Saharan Africa, where 68 percent of all HIV cases worldwide are found. Gone are the gory images synonymous with AIDS, that often appeared in the 1990s to early 2000s, which left many with the sound conviction that contracting the HIV virus was as good as pronouncing a death sentence.

Much credit goes to Africa’s people, its governments and our international partners for sustained efforts in the relentless fight against HIV in Africa. A good example of such leadership among others is the government of South Africa — they are now financing as much as 80 percent of the antiretroviral medication for its people through its own health budget, bolstered by technical support from donors. Botswana achieved universal access to treatment in 2008, and since then has begun to see a further decline in new infections. The percentage of children born HIV-positive to mothers living with HIV in Botswana also declined from 21 percent in 2003 to 4 percent in 2010 — impressive progress thanks in part to sustained political leadership.

Today, 22 countries in sub-Saharan Africa have reduced new HIV infections by more than 25 percent, data shows that an HIV-positive person on treatment is 96 percent less likely to pass HIV on to others and clinical trials have proven that voluntary male circumcision reduces the risk of new HIV infection in men by roughly 60 percent.

These numbers tell a great story, but there are other numbers that could put to risk the great progress made by African governments, development partners and the private sector. UNAIDS statistics show that the availability of funding to combat HIV is generally on the decline while funding needed to fight the pandemic is increasing. According to UNAIDS, at the end of 2010 around US$ 15 billion was available for the AIDS response in low- and middle-income countries. Yet donor funding has been reduced by 10 percent from US $7.6 billion in 2009 to US $6.9 billion in 2010, and the Global Fund recently had to cancel Round 11 of grant-making due to insufficient or delayed donor funds.

This begs the question: How do you put millions of people on treatment, give them renewed hope, and then back off, knowing full well the catastrophic implications of such action?

We still have nearly 9 million HIV positive people who are still in need of treatment, 1,000 babies born with HIV everyday, and nearly two new people are infected for every one person put on treatment. This reminds me of what remains an indelible statement by Dr. Kihumuro Apuuli, director general of the Uganda AIDS Commission who said, “You cannot mop the floor when the tap is still running on it.”

For all the commitment and investment our governments and development partners have made much remains to be done if we are to make this period in history become the beginning of the end of AIDS. So what does this mean? Well, at ONE, we believe that, it means reminding ourselves to recommit to measurable goals. They include:

  • Virtually eliminating mother-to-child transmission by 2015
  • Accelerating access to treatment for 15 million people by 2015
  • Implement innovative prevention techniques to drastically reduce new infections by 2015.

These goals are by no means new. World leaders have already committed to them in various international forums. If these commitments — including commitments to the Global Fund — are renewed, together, we can really begin to see the end of this pandemic.