Lighting candles to show solidarity for people living with HIV in Suva, Fiji, on Worlds AIDS Day, 1st December 2011. UNAIDS
Lighting candles to show solidarity for people living with HIV in Suva, Fiji, on Worlds AIDS Day, 1st December 2011. UNAIDS

Progress on HIV response is 'enormous' says WHO

The past decade has seen enormous progress in the response to HIV, with nearly half of people who need treatment receiving it, says the World Health Organization in a new report. 

But despite unparalleled progress, access to life-saving HIV services remains uneven in many regions and countries. Infections stay high among adolescent girls, injecting drug users, men who have sex with men, and other marginalised population groups.

The report, by WHO, UNICEF and UNAIDS, indicates that increased access to HIV services resulted in a 15% reduction of new infections over the past decade and a 22% decline in AIDS-related deaths in the last five years. It says the improvements demonstrate the benefits that sustained investment in HIV/AIDS can bring over long periods.

The report pinpoints those initiatives that are working:

  • improved access to HIV testing services, which enabled 61% of pregnant women in eastern and southern Africa to receive testing and counseling for HIV;
  • pregnant women receiving effective medicines to prevent mother-to-child transmission;
  • availability of antiretroviral therapy (ART), which can now be accessed by 47% of the 14.2 million people eligible to receive it.

“It has taken the world ten years to achieve this level of momentum,” says Gottfried Hirnschall, Director of WHO's HIV Department. “There is now a very real possibility of getting ahead of the epidemic. But this can only be achieved by both sustaining and accelerating this momentum over the next decade and beyond.”

But the report points to significant areas where more still needs to be done.  

  • More than half of the people who need antiretroviral therapy in low- and middle-income countries are still unable to access it. Many do not know that they have HIV.
  • Despite growing evidence about what makes a real impact on epidemics, some countries are still not tailoring their programmes for those who are most at risk and in need. In many cases adolescent girls, people who inject drugs, men who have sex with men, transgender people, sex workers, prisoners and migrants remain unable to access HIV prevention and treatment services.
  • Worldwide, the vast majority (64%) of people aged 15-24 living with HIV today are female. The rate is even higher in sub-Saharan Africa where girls and young women make up 71% of all young people living with HIV. Prevention strategies are not reaching them.