Sunday, August 7, 2022

The UN says progress in the global fight against AIDS is set back by the pandemic

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Years of advances in the prevention and treatment of acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) have stalled around the world, warns a new United Nations report, which finds that last year saw the smallest annual decline in new HIV infections since 2016.

The new UN report, titled “In Danger,” released on Wednesday, revealed that new HIV infections fell by just 3.6 percent between 2020 and 2021.

“In 2021 there were 1.5 million new HIV infections and 650,000 AIDS deaths. That means 4,000 new HIV infections every day,” said Mary Mahy, epidemiology team leader, Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS, in a statement.

“That’s 4,000 people who need to be tested, started treatment, avoided infecting their partners and treated for the rest of their lives. It also means 1,800 deaths from AIDS every day, or one death every minute,” added Dr. Mahy added.

The report warned that new HIV infections are now rising where they had been falling – in the world’s most populous regions, including Asia and the Pacific.

It found that the rapid progress seen in East and South Africa in previous years has slowed significantly in 2021.

The report warned that if current trends continue, 1.2 million people could be newly infected with HIV in 2025 – three times more than the United Nations target of keeping annual infections below 370,000 by this year.

The United Nations noted that “pronounced inequalities” within and between countries have stalled progress in controlling HIV, with the disease itself further increasing vulnerability.

Young women and teenage girls remain particularly exposed, the report warned, as this demographic will see one new infection every two minutes in 2021.

“The gender impact of HIV, particularly in Africa, has become clearer than ever during Covid, with millions of girls out of school, a rise in teenage pregnancy and gender-based violence, disruptions to essential HIV treatment and prevention services,” UNAIDS said into a statement.

Teenage girls and young women are three times more likely to get HIV than boys and young men, she found.

Voluntary male circumcisions – which reduce infections in men by 60 percent – have also slowed over the past two years, it said.

While the number of people using pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP)one of the most promising preventive interventions – doubling between 2020 and 2021 mostly in southern Africa – the report points out that this is still a long way from the UNAIDS target of 10 million people receiving PrEP by 2025.

Development aid for HIV from countries other than the US has reportedly plummeted 57 percent over the past decade.

UNAIDS needs $29.3 billion by 2025, said Liana Moro, UNAIDS Technical Officer Program Monitoring and Reporting.

“In 2021, $21.4 billion was available for HIV programs in low- and middle-income countries. We are $8 billion off our 2025 target,” Ms. Moro added.

Progress in scrapping laws that increase the risk of HIV infection and death for marginalized people is still “insufficient”, including for LGBT+ people, people who inject drugs and sex workers, the UN panel noted.

The new report comes at the start of this week’s International AIDS Conference in Montreal, Canada, where some hopeful science will also be reported.

Researchers announced on Wednesday that a fourth person, and the oldest so far at 66, has been “cured” of HIV after being diagnosed with the infection in 1988.

The patient, named “City of Hope” after the California center where he was treated, has reportedly been in remission of the virus for over 17 months after starting antiretroviral therapy (ART) for the disease after a Stem cell transplantation from an unrelated donor had ended for acute leukemia.

Scientists hope these cases of people successfully recovering from the infection could ultimately lead to better care for more people.

“It’s still possible for leaders to be back on track to end AIDS by 2030. Ending AIDS will cost a lot less money than not ending AIDS. Importantly, the actions needed to end AIDS also better prepare the world to protect itself against the threats of future pandemics,” said UNAIDS Executive Director Winnie Byanyima.

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