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AIDS deaths halve and 19 million people on life saving treatment

By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD,July 20, 2017

Yesterday the UNAIDS released a report that showed for the first time a decline in the number of deaths due to AIDS. Now more than half of the individuals who have been infected with the HIV virus i.e. 53% have access to treatment with life saving medications for AIDS compared to data from 2005.

A total of 36.7 million people are living with HIV infection according to a 2016 survey, on which this report is based. Of these 19.5 million individuals have access to life saving antiretroviral medications or agents used to treat HIV AIDS. The target numbers are treatment access to 30 million individuals by 2020. The number of AIDS related deaths have halved from 1.9 million in 2005 to 1 million in 2016.

The new report is called “Ending AIDS: progress towards the 90–90–90 targets”.

Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of UNAIDS said that the target numbers of people being treated with antiretroviral medications was 15 million in 2015 and 30 million in 2020. The target for 2015 has been achieved. Now UNAIDS is striving to double the numbers by 2020.

One of the best performing regions where all the numbers are heartening including access to medicines, number of new cases and number of deaths, is eastern and southern Africa. This region is one of the worst hit with HIV AIDS. Nearly half of the populations living here are living with the deadly infection. But even in these regions, since 2010, the number of deaths has reduced by 42%.

There is a 29% drop in the new HIV cases among all individuals and a 56% drop in HIV cases in children over the same period. These regions have performed very well over the last few years said the agency and the AIDS epidemic could be moving towards and end in these regions.

The targets were termed as “90-90-90”. These targets were first formulated in 2014. It means that by 2020, at least 90% of all persons living with HIV infection should know their HIV status. This would help stop the spread of the disease. Further at least 90% of those who have been diagnosed with HIV should have sustained and continuous access to medications for HIV – antiretroviral drugs. And at least 90% of the individuals who are on antiretroviral therapy should have viral suppression or reduction in number of the virus in their blood.

According to the interim report from 2016, the targets are really close. In 2016, over two thirds, i.e. 70% of all individuals are aware of their HIV status. Of these who know that they are HIV positive, 77% were accessing treatment for their infection. Viral suppression is achieved in 82% HIV positive individuals. Reduced number of viruses in the blood helps prevent spread of the infection to other individuals.

The regions that are performing best to achieve the 90-90-90 targets by 2020 are eastern and southern Africa, western and central Europe and North America and Latin America. For example in eastern and southern Africa the numbers are now – 76-79-83. This means that nearly half of the population has good viral suppression. Botswana, Cambodia, Denmark, Iceland, Singapore, Sweden and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland are the seven countries that have already achieved the 90-90-90 target according to the report.

The Caribbean and Asia and the Pacific are also gearing up to meet the targets. Some countries are lagging behind in achieving these targets.

They include Middle East and North Africa and in eastern Europe and central Asia. In these regions AIDS related deaths have risen by 48% (in Middle East and north Africa) and 38% (in eastern Europe and Central Asia). However some countries of these regions such as Algeria, Morocco and Belarus have done well and are closer to the target numbers.

The deaths due to AIDS – final form of HIV infection have also halved over the last decade. This has increased the life expectancy in many of the worst affected regions such as eastern and southern Africa. According to Mr Sidibé the communities and families are able to “push back” AIDS and survive. Still there is a long way to go says the report.

There are still one third of HIV positive persons who are unaware of their status and are spreading the virus. There are still 17.1 million individuals who do not have access to antiretroviral drugs and over 50% of the individuals do not have adequate viral suppression.

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