Wed | Nov 29, 2023

Warning to world as AIDS decline slowest in five years

Published:Thursday | July 28, 2022 | 12:10 AMJudana Murphy/Gleaner Writer

“The global AIDS response is under threat.”

That’s the dire warning of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) Global AIDS Update 2022 report titled IN DANGER.

New HIV infections around the world dropped by 3.6 per cent between 2020 and 2021, the smallest annual decline since 2016.

Approximately 1.5 million new infections occurred last year, which is more than one million above the global targets.

At the virtual launch of the report on Wednesday, UNAIDS Executive Director Winnie Byanyima said the data shared bring painful but vital news for the world.

Byanyima said the report reveals that the response to the AIDS pandemic has been derailed by global crises - the colliding pandemics of HIV and COVID-19, the war in Ukraine, and the resulting global economic crisis.

“Progress has been stalled, inequalities have widened, and resources have shrunk. Millions of lives are at risk,” she lamented. .

Byanyima explained that last year, one person passed away every minute because of an AIDS-related illness, totalling 650,000 deaths, despite effective HIV treatment and tools to prevent, detect, and treat opportunistic infections.

“If this trend continues, we could see 7.7 million additional AIDS-related deaths in this decade,” she warned.

President of the International AIDS Society, Dr Adeeba Kamarulzaman, also said that the key data in the report are troubling.

She said 70 per cent of new HIV infections in 2021 occurred among key populations, illustrating that the most marginalised are also the hardest hit.

Kamarulzaman urged governments to urgently make resources available, close research gaps, and eliminate stigma.

“We cannot afford to lose more ground in the global response to HIV. We are not on track, but we certainly can be,” she said.

The 371-page report warned that financing threats could further undermine the response in increasingly strained economies.

UNAIDS outlined that progress is slowing as resources available for HIV in low- and middle-income countries have declined, leaving their HIV responses US$8 billion short of the amount needed by 2025.

“Many major bilateral donors are reducing international assistance for AIDS. Meanwhile, low- and middle-income countries struggle under the greater fiscal burdens caused by the COVID-19 pandemic,” the report read.

The World Bank has also projected that 52 countries, home to 43 per cent of people living with HIV, will experience a significant drop in their public spending capacity through to 2026.

Major recommendations

In an effort to close the gaps and end AIDS by 2030, UNAIDS has made five major recommendations.

They include making a new push for HIV prevention by elevating the political and financial prioritisation of HIV prevention and shifting from fragmented projects to large-scale implementation.

Countries have also been urged to address inequalities in HIV prevention, testing, and treatment access and outcomes, and close the gaps that exist in specific localities and for certain groups.

UNAIDS also recommended that countries support and effectively resource community-led responses which reach those who are poorly served by mainstream services.

“Resourcing these efforts and removing policies that impede the ability of community-led organisations to provide a full range of services will be key to accelerating progress,” the report said.