Global deaths from AIDS reduced drastically, UN reports

"The enormous achievements in the response to HIV in recent decades is one of the best examples of multilateralism in action," said the president of the UN General Assembly.

June 3, 2019 22:07
3 minute read.
Volkswagen beetle cars drive in a file during a "World AIDS Day 2015" rally

Volkswagen beetle cars drive in a file during a "World AIDS Day 2015" rally . (photo credit: REUTERS/DINUKA LIYANAWATTE)


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Since the United Nations General Assembly held its first special session on the AIDS epidemic 18 years ago, global deaths from AIDS-related illnesses among people of all ages have been cut nearly in half, according to a report from UN Secretary-General António Guterres.

"A world without AIDS was almost unimaginable when the General Assembly held its first special session on the epidemic 18 years ago," said Guterres in the report. 
UNAIDS data on AIDS-related deaths globally, 2008-2017

HIV infections among children have similarly declined and infections among adults have declined by 19%.

The worldwide response to the AIDS epidemic was described as "the single largest collective global action against a deadly communicable disease" in the report.

In 2016, the General Assembly established a "fast-track" strategy calling for a rapid expansion of evidence-based HIV prevention, testing and treatment services to achieve a commitment to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030 within the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The United Nations system, including the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) is increasing support to countries through the UN reform initiative in order to meet the 2020 targets agreed on by the General Assembly.

"The enormous achievements in the response to HIV in recent decades, under the strong leadership of UNAIDS, is one of the best examples of multilateralism in action," said President of the United Nations General Assembly Maria Fernanda Espinosa. "It is most definitely an indication of what we can achieve when we work together around a common cause.'

In East and Southern Africa, regions heavily affected by the AIDS epidemic, steady increases in funding have supported wide-scale expansion of evidence-informed and human rights-based programs. From 2008 to 2017, AIDS-related deaths in the area declined by 53% and the yearly number of new HIV infections declined by 36%, meaning that an epidemic that at one point killed more than a million people in the region every year, now kills less than 400,000 people every year.

Likewise, significant reductions in AIDS-related deaths and new HIV infections have been reported worldwide.

Concerning the search for an HIV vaccine and a cure, two vaccine candidates are currently being tested in phase 3 trials in Africa. In 2019, a second person living with HIV was confirmed as being in long-term remission after receiving a bone marrow transplant. The report stressed that this "difficult and dangerous procedure is not readily scalable." Gene-editing techniques have shown promise in animal tests.

About 21.7 million people were reported as receiving HIV treatment in 2017, 5.5 times more than a decade ago. The report attributed this to "the active voice of communities of affected populations, a clear global ambition and vision, shared investment among countries at all income levels and the consistent development of new technologies and improved ways of reaching the people living with HIV with testing and treatment services."

The UN initiative also includes goals referred to as the "90-90-90 targets," aiming to have 90% of people living with HIV knowledgeable about their HIV status, 90% of people living with HIV who are knowledgeable about their status accessing treatment and 90% of people on treatment having a viral load at an undetectable level. Botswana, Cambodia, Eswatini, Lesotho and Namibia have reached or nearly reached these targets.

The report stressed that treatment coverage in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, the Middle East and North, West and Central Africa are "alarmingly low."

The impact of stigma and discrimination against people at high risk of HIV infection and people living with HIV caused damage still felt today, according to the report, but efforts to "dispel the stigma and discrimination surrounding the epidemic have had a measurable positive effect."

The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) unites the efforts of 11 UN organizations—UNHCR, UNICEF, WFP, UNDP, UNFPA, UNODC, UN Women, ILO, UNESCO, WHO and the World Bank—and collaborates with global and national partners with the goal of ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030.

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