People walk past a bus during an HIV/AIDS awareness campaign on the occasion of World AIDS Day, Abuja, Nigeria December 2018. Photo: Reuters/Afolabi Sotunde
London: The world has missed ambitious goals to stem the spread of HIV and widen access to treatment, jeopardising a target to end the AIDS pandemic by 2030 unless global efforts are stepped up, the UN has said.
Last year, 84% of HIV-positive people knew they had the virus, with 87% of them taking antiretroviral drugs. Of those on medication, 90% had levels of the virus suppressed to a level so low it cannot be passed on, UNAIDS said in a report.
Targets of 90% by 2020 were set for each of the three goals five years ago, but the UN agency said global progress had been stymied by COVID-19.
It added that the criminalisation of gay sex, drug use and sex work in many countries continued to “stand in the way” of` testing and treatment.
“Time is running out on the global effort to end AIDS by 2030,” it said in a report published before the 40th anniversary on June 5 of the first AIDS cases being officially recorded in the US and a UN meeting on HIV/AIDS next week.
“Falling short of the 2020 targets has a huge human cost: since 2016, an additional 3.5 million people acquired HIV infection, and an additional 820,000 people died of AIDS-related causes because the world did not achieve those targets.”
Globally, 34.7 million people have died from AIDS-related illnesses since the first cases were detected in 1981, while 37.6 million people are currently living with HIV, UNAIDS said.
While new infections have fallen globally in the last decade, dropping 43% in eastern and southern Africa, they have risen 43% in Eastern Europe and Central Asia and also increased in Latin America and the Middle East and North Africa.
In 2019, 43% of new HIV cases were among men who have sex with men, transgender women, sex workers and injecting drug users, with data showing their criminalisation in many nations leads to higher infection rates, the report said.
Some health campaigners expressed optimism about the new data, noting that HIV infections and deaths continue to fall worldwide.
“What’s really encouraging is that (among) people who are accessing treatment … viral suppression within that group is actually where the target was,” said Matthew Hodson, executive director of NAM, a British HIV/AIDS information charity.
(Thomson Reuters Foundation – reporting by Rachel Savage; editing by Helen Popper)