WASHINGTON — For the first time in more than 30 years, the world has finally reached “the beginning of the end of AIDS.”
This finding, from the 2014 ONE AIDS Report, means more people were added to life-saving AIDS treatment over the past year than the number of people who became newly infected with HIV.
However, the report — released to mark World AIDS Day — warns that this global milestone does not mean that the end of AIDS is around the corner.
Erin Hohlfelder, ONE’s Director of Global Health Policy and author of the report, said “Despite the good news, we should not take a victory lap yet. We’ve passed the tipping point in the AIDS fight at the global level, but not all countries are there yet, and the gains made can easily stall or unravel.”
According to the report, the AIDS fight faces three major threats. The first is inadequate funding. The report finds we are at least $3 billion short annually of the amount needed to control the disease. The international donor funding that exists is unsustainable, contributed in large part by just three countries—the US, the UK, and France—and many African governments are not meeting their own health spending promises.
Second, the disease is increasingly concentrated among those who are harder to reach. Compared with the rest of the adult population, HIV prevalence is dramatically higher among people who inject drugs, men who have sex with men, sex workers, and adolescent girls—groups who are often stigmatised and have trouble accessing treatment and prevention services.
The third threat is the fragility of progress to date. As the Ebola crisis has highlighted in recent months, diseases can exploit weak health systems and quickly turn the clock back on success. A country passing the tipping point also doesn’t mean that it is guaranteed to stay there. A good example is Ghana which, according to the report, reached the tipping point in 2012 but slid backwards in 2013.
Hohlfelder says the report’s three main recommendations address these concerns.
“Based on the findings, we want to see bold new funding from a more diversified base—including more from African domestic budgets—because we can’t rely on the same handful of donors every year.
“We are calling on those involved in the AIDS fight to target HIV where it is, not where it is easiest to reach—and that requires not just more money, but more effective programming and political pressure to help reach the most marginalized.
“Finally, we must build resilient health systems that can tackle AIDS along with other health changes, so that the next time a crisis like Ebola emerges, countries will be able to weather the storm.”