HIV wins and loses

Anke De Malsche
05 September 2019
A new UNAIDS report highlights difficult progress in the fight against HIV/AIDS. While countries such as Rwanda and Malawi seem to be winning the battle, Eastern Europe has seen a remarkable increase in new HIV infections. 

AIDS has made millions of victims since its outbreak in the last century. Today, early diagnosis and proper medication means the disease can be stabilised and is not necessarily a death sentence anymore. In 2018, the number of AIDS-related deaths worldwide fell to 770,000, down a third since 2010. However, this does not mean the battle has been won. UNAIDS, the UN body that coordinates all HIV/AIDS-related activities and partner of the Belgian Development Cooperation, reveals a number of remarkable findings in its latest report.


Rise in new infections

According to the report, the number of new HIV infections in Eastern Europe and Central Asia has increased by as much as 29 percent since 2010. The report also shows a 10 percent increase in the Middle East and North Africa. Moreover, as these new infections are not sufficiently treated, the number of AIDS-related deaths in these regions has risen by 5 and 9 percent respectively.

The increases can be linked to the criminalisation of high-risk groups such as sex workers, drug users and men who have sex with men. These groups are isolated in these countries and therefore more difficult to reach for appropriate medical care and awareness raising. As a result, the HIV virus is spreading, with serious consequences. UNAIDS points out that the only way to end HIV/AIDS is to involve communities at higher risk for infection in the fight against the disease.

Never before have so many HIV-positive people taken AIDS inhibitors.

Success stories

There are, however, also positive trends to note. Never before have so many HIV-positive people taken AIDS inhibitors, with East and South Africa leading the way. For example, Kenya was one of the first countries in Sub-Saharan Africa to start "PrEP treatments", which consists of medication to prevent the disease in risk groups. In South Africa, the number of new HIV infections and AIDS-related deaths fell by about 40 percent.

Since 2010, mother-to-child transmission of HIV has decreased by 41 percent worldwide, while remarkable reductions in new HIV infections among children have been achieved in Botswana (85%), Rwanda (83%), Malawi (76%) and Namibia (71%). Despite these positive trends, investments in new HIV/AIDS programmes remain necessary. Without continued pressure, the 90-90-90 target will not be achieved by 2020. This target aims for 90 percent of all people living with HIV to know their HIV status, 90 percent of all people with diagnosed HIV infection to receive antiretroviral therapy and 90 percent of all people receiving therapy to have viral suppression.

Read also AIDS, a fight still ongoing


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