More people than ever are living with the AIDS virus but this is largely due to better access to drugs that keep HIV patients alive and well for many years, the United Nations AIDS programme (UNAIDS) said on Monday.
In its annual report on the pandemic, UNAIDS said the number of people dying of the disease fell to 1.8 million in 2010, down from a peak of 2.2 million in the mid-2000s.
UNAIDS director Michel Sidibe said the past 12 months had been a “game-changing year” in the global AIDS fight.
Some 2.5 million deaths have been averted in poor and middle-income countries since 1995 due to AIDS drugs being introduced and access to them improving, according to UNAIDS.
Much of that success has come in the past two years as the numbers of people getting treatment has increased rapidly.
“We’ve never had a year when there has been so much science, so much leadership and such results in one year,” Sidibe said in a telephone interview from UNAIDS headquarters in Geneva.
“Even in this time of public finance crises and uncertainty about funding, we’re seeing results. We are seeing more countries than ever before (achieving) significant reductions in new infections and stabilizing their epidemics.”
Since the beginning of the AIDS pandemic in the 1980s, more than 60 million people have been infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that causes AIDS. HIV can be controlled for many years with cocktails of drugs, but there is as yet no cure.
TREATMENT FOR PREVENTION
The UNAIDS report said 34 million people around the world had HIV in 2010, up from 33.3 million in 2009.
Among the most dramatic changes was the leap in the number of people getting treatment with AIDS drugs when they need it.
Of the 14.2 million people eligible for treatment in low- and middle-income countries, around 6.6 million, or 47 percent, are now receiving it, UNAIDS said, and 11 poor- and mid-income countries now have universal access to HIV treatment, with coverage of 80 percent or more.
This compares with 36 percent of the 15 million people needing treatment in 2009 who got AIDS drugs.
Major producers of HIV drugs include Gilead, Bristol Myers Squibb, Merck, Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline. Improved access to drugs from these and other manufacturers means not only that fewer people are dying of AIDS each year, UNAIDS said, but also that the risk of new HIV infections is reduced.