JOHANNESBURG – The United Nations warned on Tuesday that progress in the fight against AIDS is slowing down.
It said that since 2010 there have been “worrying increases” in HIV infections in areas of eastern Europe, central Asia, the Middle East and Latin America.
There are currently 37.9 million infected people in the world and only two out of three have access to antiretrovirals, according to the latest global annual report that the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) presented on Tuesday in South Africa.
The UN program focused on the increase in infections that have been registered since 2010 in eastern Europe and central Asia (29%), the Middle East and North Africa (10%), and Latin America (7%).
According to UNAIDS, the global reduction of infections and related deaths was especially driven by the efforts in South and East Africa, although these regions are still the most affected in the world.
The UN estimated that in 2018 some 1.7 million people contracted the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and some 770,000 died from related AIDS illnesses.
The number of new infections in 2018 represents a drop of 16% compared to the rates of 2010.
In the same period, deaths linked to AIDS fell by 33% and 82% of pregnant women who have the virus received treatment (90% more than in 2010), which means a 41% reduction in the rate of infected children.
However, the UN stressed in its report that “progress being made, but less each year” and urged not to lower the guard.
The deceleration puts at risk the main goals set by the UN for 2020, called “90-90-90,” which at this rate will not be achieved.
These goals aim that 90% of people with HIV will be aware of their health status by 2020, that 90% of those diagnosed receive continuous antiretroviral therapy and that 90% of people who receive antiretroviral therapy have viral suppression (which significantly reduces the presence of the virus in the blood).
By region, the general outlook regarding the fight against HIV is heterogeneous.
Countries such as South Africa – one which was historically most hit by AIDS – have managed to reduce new infections and deaths by 40% in the last eight years.
For this reason, UNAIDS chose the small South African community of Eshowe, in the east of the country, to launch its 2019 global report.
The UN program considers this place an “example” as it has already reached the goals set for 2020.
“We urgently need increased political leadership to end AIDS,” said Gunilla Carlsson, UNAIDS Executive Director.
“This starts with investing adequately and smartly and by looking at what’s making some countries so successful.
“Ending AIDS is possible if we focus on people, not diseases, create road maps for the people and locations being left behind, and take a human rights-based approach to reach people most affected by HIV,” Carlsson said.
The UN experts also lamented the fall in financing during 2018.
“Disconcertingly, the report shows that the gap between resource needs and resource availability is widening.
“For the first time, the global resources available for the AIDS response dropped significantly, by nearly US$1 billion, as donors disbursed less and domestic investments did not grow fast enough to compensate for inflation,” UNAIDS said in the report.
Regarding the general knowledge about seropositivity, almost eight out of 10 people with HIV in the world are already aware of it.
The UN report emphasized the importance of communities stopping the advance of the virus, for their key role in issues such as education, access to prevention and also for the need to fight against social stigmas.
Within their communities, young women continue to be particularly vulnerable.
The UN said that it is “unacceptable” that nearly 6,200 young women were infected with the virus in 2018 and that they are 60% more likely to contract it than their male counterparts.