For 1st time, over half of peo­ple with HIV tak­ing AIDS drugs

The Hamilton Spectator - - HEALTH - MARIA CHENG

For the first time in the global AIDS epi­demic that has spanned four decades and killed 35 mil­lion peo­ple, more than half of all those in­fected with HIV are on drugs to treat the virus, the United Na­tions said in a re­port re­leased Thurs­day.

AIDS deaths are also now close to half of what they were in 2005, ac­cord­ing to the U.N. AIDS agency, al­though those fig­ures are based on es­ti­mates and not ac­tual counts from coun­tries.

Ex­perts ap­plauded the progress, but ques­tioned if the bil­lions spent in the past two decades should have brought more im­pres­sive re­sults. The U.N. re­port was re­leased in Paris where an AIDS meet­ing be­gins this week­end.

“When you think about the money that’s been spent on AIDS, it could have been bet­ter,” said So­phie Har­man, a se­nior lec­turer in global health politics at Queen Mary Univer­sity in Lon­don.

She said more re­sources might have gone to strength­en­ing health sys­tems in poor coun­tries.

“The real test will come in five to 10 years once the fund­ing goes down,” Har­man said, warn­ing that some coun­tries might not be able to sus­tain the U.N.-funded AIDS pro­grams on their own.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has pro­posed a 31 per cent cut in con­tri­bu­tions to the U.N. start­ing in Oc­to­ber.

Ac­cord­ing to the re­port, about 19.5 mil­lion peo­ple with HIV were tak­ing AIDS drugs in 2016, com­pared to 17.1 mil­lion the pre­vi­ous year.

UNAIDS also said there were about 36.7 mil­lion peo­ple with HIV in 2016, up slightly from 36.1 mil­lion the year be­fore.

In the re­port’s in­tro­duc­tion, Michel Sidibe, UNAIDS’ ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, said more and more coun­tries are start­ing treat­ment as early as pos­si­ble, in line with sci­en­tific find­ings that the ap­proach keeps peo­ple healthy and helps pre­vent new in­fec­tions. Stud­ies show that peo­ple whose virus is un­der con­trol are far less likely to pass it on to an un­in­fected sex part­ner.

“Our quest to end AIDS has only just be­gun,” he wrote.

The re­port notes that about three-quar­ters of preg­nant women with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, now have ac­cess to medicines to pre­vent them from pass­ing it to their ba­bies. It also said five hard-hit African coun­tries now pro­vide life­long AIDS drugs to 95 per cent of preg­nant and breast­feed­ing women with the virus.

“For more than 35 years, the world has grap­pled with an AIDS epi­demic that has claimed an es­ti­mated 35 mil­lion lives,” the re­port said. “To­day, the United Na­tions Gen­eral As­sem­bly has a shared vi­sion to con­sign AIDS to the his­tory books.”

The death toll from AIDS has dropped dra­mat­i­cally in re­cent years as the wide avail­abil­ity of af­ford­able, life-sav­ing drugs has made the ill­ness a man­age­able dis­ease. But Har­man said that “End­ing AIDS” — the re­port’s ti­tle — was un­re­al­is­tic.

“I can see why they do it, be­cause it’s bold and no one would ever dis­agree with the idea of end­ing AIDS, but I think we should be prag­matic,” she said. “I don’t think we will ever elim­i­nate AIDS, so it’s pos­si­ble this will give peo­ple the wrong idea.”

AARON FAVILA, THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

The global AIDS epi­demic has spanned four decades and killed 35 mil­lion peo­ple across the globe.

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