World AIDS Day Follow-up: Progress Made and the Road Ahead

Monday, December 1, was World AIDS Day. The global community has made tremendous progress in the fight against HIV/AIDS since the first World AIDS Day was observed in 1988. In 1996, at the Vancouver International AIDS conference, combination antiretroviral (ARV) treatment was announced to be highly effective in keeping those living with HIV healthy. Even with these medical breakthroughs, international actors were hesitant to attempt AIDS treatment in poor settings, due to the lack of infrastructure and other systemic barriers.

Fortunately, in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, the global community did come together to reach poor countries through international HIV/AIDS efforts. In 1996, the Joint United Nations Program on AIDS (UNAIDS) began its work. In 2002, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria was established, and in 2003, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) was launched.

These significant medical and programmatic achievements have been accompanied with promising results on the ground, even in the poorest settings. As recently as 2002, only 50,000 HIV-positive people in Africa had access to antiretroviral medicine (only 1% of those in need). By the end of 2007, 2.1 million Africans (30% of those in need) — and nearly 3 million people globally (31% of those in need) — were receiving treatment. Additionally, the number of children under 15 in low-and middle-income countries who receive ARV treatment grew from 75,000 in 2005 to 200,000 in 2007.

Earlier this week, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria announced that 2 million people are on ARV treatment through Global Fund supported programs; this is an increase of 43% since the results were reported last December. The Global Fund has also supported 62 million HIV counseling and testing sessions, and provided basic care and support to 3.2 million AIDS orphans and vulnerable children.

These results are impressive, but the fight against HIV/AIDS is far from over. With 33 million people living with HIV worldwide (of which, 9.7 million still need ARV therapy) and 7,400 new HIV infections every day, global efforts must continue to help eradicate this devastating pandemic.

-Rena Pacheco-Theard

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