As the world marked 30 years of the HIV/AIDS scourge yesterday, Rwanda was named among the few countries in the world to have registered success in reducing new HIV infections and improving access to treatment, prevention services and care.
A report issued by the United Nations Joint Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) cites Rwanda as one of the few countries which have achieved at least 80 percent access to treatment.
UNAIDS further says that the last decade has seen a nearly 25 percent decline in new HIV infections, a reduction in AIDS-related deaths, and "unprecedented advances" in access to treatment.
But UNAIDS observed that these achievements are unevenly distributed, exceedingly fragile, and fall short of global targets, save for a few countries that have met the targets.
The report said more than 34 million people were living with HIV at the end of 2010 — including 2.6 million who became newly infected with the virus that causes AIDS in 2009.
An estimated 6.6 million people in low- and middle-income countries were receiving antiretroviral drug treatment at the end of last year, but about nine million eligible people in those countries were not, the report said.
“We have made tremendous progress in stabilising or reducing rates of new infections in nearly 60 countries,” UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibe said.
“But this success only highlights the rampant stigma and discrimination that contributes to rising infection rates among key populations at higher risk, and to the vulnerability of women and girls,” he added
According to the report, between 2008 and 2010, HIV among sex workers increased from 44 percent to 50 percent, and among gay men, it rose from 30 percent to 36 percent.
An estimated 20 percent of the 15.9 million people who inject drugs worldwide are living with HIV, the report said.
The report said “above-average declines” have occurred in sub-Saharan Africa and south and Southeast Asia while "more modest reductions" of less than 25 percent have taken place in Latin America, the Caribbean and Pacific Ocean nations.
Sidibe said that billions of dollars will be needed to meet the agency's vision for the future — "zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths."
The report said "universal access" to drug treatment for those with HIV is achievable.
As of December 2009, seven countries had already reached at least 80 percent of treatment-eligible individuals with antiretroviral drugs —Rwanda, Botswana, Cambodia, Cuba, Guyana, Oman and Romania, the report said.
Fifteen countries reported treatment coverage of at least 60 percent of those with HIV, but the report said 28 countries have 20 percent or less of those infected with HIV in treatment, including Russia, Egypt, Iran and Colombia.
Former U.S. President Bill Clinton wrote in the report that "more than 7,000 people, including 1,000 children, are newly infected with the virus every day and someone dies of an AIDS-related death every 20 seconds."
"People in rich countries don't die from AIDS any more, but those in poor countries still do — and that's just not acceptable," he said.
According to the report, investment in the response to HIV in low-and middle-income countries rose from US$1.6 billion in 2001 to US$15.9 billion in 2009.
But UNAIDS warned that "as the epidemic enters its fourth decade, flattening support potentially jeopardises the sustainability of financing at recent levels."
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon wrote in the preface that "the world has reached a crossroads."
"The number of people becoming infected and dying is decreasing, but the international resources needed to sustain this progress have declined for the first time in 10 years, despite tremendous unmet needs," he said.
UNAIDS and the Secretary-General urged international donors to increase support to sustain and step up the fight against AIDS.
“Access to treatment will transform the AIDS response in the next decade. We must invest in accelerating access and finding new treatment options,” Sidibé said
“Antiretroviral therapy is a bigger game-changer than ever before—it not only stops people from dying, but also prevents transmission of HIV to women, men and children,” he added.