The Worldwide Fight Against HIV/AIDS Just Scored a Major Win

HIV treatment has made its way to 15 million people, according to a new report.

Children living with HIV in South Africa. (Photo: HRH Prince Henry of Wales/Getty Images)

Jul 16, 2015· 2 MIN READ
David McNair is an award-winning reporter and editor based in Charlottesville, Va. He runs the hyper-local news site The DTM and his fiction has appeared in Virginia Quarterly Review.

The global goal to provide HIV treatment to 15 million people by the end of 2015 has been met—and the milestone even came ahead of schedule, UNAIDS announced in a report released this week, highlighting enormous progress made in achieving one of the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals.

We are on the way to a generation free of AIDS,” declared U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who was speaking at a global development summit in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa on Tuesday. “Now we must commit to ending the AIDS epidemic.

So, Why Should You Care? This is a huge boost in the number of people around the world receiving much-needed antiretroviral drugs for HIV treatment. Comparatively, fewer than 700,000 people in the early aughts had access to treatment. Several factors have led to the success, including legislation allowing countries to produce their own copies of drugs at lower prices and increased global investment. Back in 2000, eight pills per day could cost a patient $10,000 per year, thanks to large drug companies with a monopoly on pricing and distribution; today, those medicines can be purchased for $100 per year, according to the report. Despite this progress, however, nearly 37 million people around the world live with HIV, 70 percent of whom reside in sub-Saharan Africa (66 percent of all new HIV infections occurred in the region in 2014). In addition, new infections in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa have increased by 25 percent since 2000.

“During the first decade of the epidemic, there was very little to offer someone dying from AIDS,” UNAIDS chief Michel Sidibé wrote in the report’s introduction. “The best you could hope for was that your family wouldn’t throw you out.”

“If we had stayed complacent, 30 more million people would have been infected with HIV, 7.8 million more would have died, and 8.9 million more children would have been orphaned due to AIDS,” Sidibé wrote.

Global investment went up from just under $5 billion in 2000 to $20 billion in 2014, according to the report. As a result, AIDS-related deaths have fallen 40 percent since 2004 and HIV infections by 35 percent since 2000.

The bigger goal now is making sure that 90 percent of those living with HIV are diagnosed and can begin receiving treatment, according to the U.N. The ultimate milestone: End the AIDS epidemic by 2030.

But progress will also have to address cultural and legal roadblocks.

“Stigma, discrimination, and punitive laws continue to affect the people most impacted by HIV and to block their access to HIV services in every region of the world,” the report said. “The criminalization of sex work, drug use, and same-sex sexual relationships among consenting adults hinders attempts to reach people at higher risk of HIV infection.”

Same-sex sexual acts are a crime in 76 countries, and in seven of those countries, the act can be punishable by death. Some 17 countries have laws that allow for the deportation of foreigners with HIV, and five countries in the Middle East do not allow entry to people with HIV. In a statement following the release of the UNAIDS report, Doctors Without Borders applauded the improvements in treatment but warned against complacency, saying the world cannot afford to lose any momentum.” In some countries, HIV treatment coverage is as low as 17 percent, the organization said.

“When we see the situation in countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea, or the Central African Republic, we feel like we are stuck in a time warp,” Eric Goemaere, a Doctors Without Borders AIDS specialist, said at a conference last year. “In our projects, we receive patients at advanced stages of AIDS who remind us of what we saw before 2000 in southern Africa, when antiretroviral treatments were hardly available.

Despite unprecedented growth in the past decade, the UNAIDS report also warned that more financial support for countries is desperately needed. To remain on track to end the epidemic by 2030, $8 billion to $12 billion will need to be spent on treatment programs annually through 2020.