Halting HIV/AIDS needs bold responses

News release

Manila, 1 December 2005 —

Despite measures designed to prevent the virus from spreading, 5 million people worldwide were needlessly infected last year, adding to the 40 million already living with the virus.

"We know what works and what doesn't. So why has the necessary action to prevent the virus from spreading not been taken?" Dr Omi asked. "Why is the epidemic still growing and not reversing?"

In the last few years, a number of goals were set in response to HIV/AIDS:

  • 2000 - Millennium Development Goals (MDGs): To reverse the HIV/AIDS epidemic by 2015.
  • 2001- The United Nations General Assembly (UNGASS) Declaration of Commitment: To reduce HIV prevalence by 25% among people in the 15- to 24-year-old age bracket in the most affected countries; to reduce by 20% the number of babies infected through mother-to-child transmission; and to ensure that at least 90% of young people (aged 15-24 years) have the information, education, service and life skills that will enable them to reduce their vulnerability to HIV infection.
  • 2003 - The 3 by 5 Initiative: To provide access to antiretroviral treatment to 3 million people living with HIV in developing countries by the end of 2005.

In response and in line with the commitments made, World AIDS Day's theme this year, Stop AIDS. Keep the Promise, calls on Member States to review progress on the targets and to speed up action to stop HIV from spreading further. World AIDS Day is 1 December.

The theme is a call for accountability. "What was done or not done. The failure to respond can also provide lessons," Dr Omi said. "It is becoming increasingly clear that with sufficient will and resources, we can turn this epidemic around."

Although there have been dramatic developments in political commitment and funding, fewer than one in five infected people has access to basic HIV prevention programmes worldwide. For example, despite efforts made, current interventions are not sufficient to prevent the spread of HIV through injecting drug use, which is a major route of HIV transmission in the Region.

Despite the MDG target of stopping the spread of AIDS by 2015, the epidemic continues to grow, not reverse, in many countries, with further expansion likely. "With 10 more years to go, the target can be met, but only if bold responses focused on vulnerable groups are taken," Dr Omi stressed.

Many UNGASS strategies have a 2005 target for implementation, making it necessary to review progress and see if promises have been kept. While not legally binding, UNGASS set a clear framework for action that leaders had agreed to uphold.

Progress has been made with access to antiretroviral therapy (ART). By June 2005, almost 1 million people globally were receiving ART in developing countries. In Asia, the number of people receiving treatment increased by 50% in the first half of 2005 to 150 000, covering roughly one in seven of those who need it. Despite the progress, the 3 by 5 Initiative is still short of its targets.

All member countries of the United Nations have agreed to meet the UNGASS and MDG targets. Said Dr Omi: "These promises need to be translated into effective action. Political momentum has to be scaled up to meet national targets."

Facts and figures

General situation

  • About 40 million people are living with HIV/AIDS globally.
  • More than 25 million people have died of AIDS since 1981.
  • Women account for nearly half of all people living with the virus worldwide, and around 20% of all infected people in Asia.
  • More than 13 000 people contract the virus every day.
  • Donor funding for HIV/AIDS has increased 20-fold since 1996 to US$ 6 billion in 2004.
  • AIDS is the leading cause of death of people aged 15 to 49 years worldwide.
  • In some countries, average life expectancy has fallen by a decade because of HIV/AIDS.

Regional situation

  • About 1.5 million people are living with HIV/AIDS in the Western Pacific Region.
  • Drug use and sex work are driving the epidemic across the Western Pacific Region, yet there are few interventions to address these problems.
  • Nearly all countries in the Region have epidemics focusing on people practising high-risk behaviour. Cambodia and Papua New Guinea are the only two countries with a generalized epidemic (defined as more than 1% prevalence among the adult population.)
  • The virus has spread to all 31 provinces and autonomous regions in China.
  • Cambodia has the highest national HIV prevalence rate in Asia, at 1.9% of the general population.
  • Estimates indicate that nearly 21% of direct sex workers (brothel based) in Cambodia were HIV-positive.
  • If nothing is done to promote HIV prevention, some 10 million Chinese may be infected by 2010.
  • Injecting drug use is the main route of HIV transmission in China, Malaysia and Viet Nam.
  • In Malaysia, three quarters of all reported HIV infections were contracted via injecting drug use.

For more information, please contact Dr Bernard Fabre-Teste, Regional Adviser in Sexually Transmitted Infections including HIV/AIDS, at (63 2) 528 9714 or e-mail: fabretesteb@wpro.who.int.

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