The number of AIDS-related deaths have been dramatically reduced, and an increasing number of people are now getting treatment for HIV infections, according to the United Nations’ annual report on the scope of the global pandemic. The international organization credited the “dramatic progress” in combating the disease to the steadily expanding access to treatment.
AIDS-related deaths peaked at 2.3 million in 2005. Since then, however, they’ve been declining at an encouraging rate. In between 2011 and 2012, they fell from 1.7 million to 1.6 million.
That’s partly because fewer people are contracting the disease — during the same time period, the number of new AIDS cases dropped from 2.5 million to 2.3 million — and partly because more HIV-positive people are receiving a cocktail of antiretroviral drugs to help prevent their health from worsening. UNAIDS reports that by the end of last year, about 9.7 million people in low- and middle-income countries were receiving antiretroviral treatment. That’s an increase of nearly 20 percent in just one year.
Two years ago, the United Nations set a goal of reaching 15 million people with this type of HIV treatment by 2015. Now, UNAIDS wants to surpass that, partly because recent scientific research has demonstrated the potentially huge impact of early and aggressive antiretroviral therapy. New evidence suggests that rounds of aggressive HIV drugs may be able to “functionally cure” the virus in some cases. In light of those developments, the World Health Organization revised its official policy in July to recommend beginning HIV treatment immediately, even before people infected with the virus become very sick.
Michel Sidibé, UNAIDS’ executive director, is confident that the international community will be able to surpass the original 2015 goal. “Not only can we meet the 2015 target of 15 million people on HIV treatment, we must also go beyond and have the vision and commitment to ensure no one is left behind,” he said in a statement that accompanied the new report.
This year, the international community has marked other milestones in the fight against AIDS. Thanks to the growing availability of preventative drug treatments, several sub-Saharan countries that have been hit hardest by the HIV/AIDS epidemic have recently been able to cut children’s HIV infection rates in half. And in June, Secretary of State John Kerry announced that HIV drugs have now allowed one million HIV-free babies to be born to mothers who have the virus. Global health experts hail these developments as progress toward the goal of a future HIV-free generation.
In the United States specifically, better tests and treatments are helping to contain the threat of the virus, and better health care for HIV-positive individuals is ensuring that their life expectancy continues to be extended.