AIDS epidemic outpacing response

Posted: 12 July 2004

Author: Jeremy Hamand

The number of people living with HIV has risen in every region of the world and last year five million people became newly infected with HIV - more people than in any previous year - according to UNAIDS. There are now 38 million people infected worldwide. The findings are contained in the 2004 UNAIDS Report of the global AIDS epidemic, released for the XV International AIDS Conference, held in Bangkok from 11-16 July 2004.

"Despite increased funding, political commitment and progress in expanding access to HIV treatment over the past two years, the AIDS epidemic continues to outpace the global response," said Dr Peter Piot, UNAIDS Executive Director, at the press launch of the report. Since the 2002 AIDS Conference in Barcelona, more than nine million people have become infected and six million have died of AIDS.

The report highlights the rapid spread of the epidemic in Asia, with sharp increases in HIV infections in China, Indonesia and Vietnam. 1.1 million people in Asia became infected with HIV last year alone - more than any previous year. India, with an estimated 5.1 million people living with HIV, is home to one in seven HIV-positive people worldwide. This represents the largest number of people infected outside South Africa. With 60 per cent of the world's population, Asia's fast-growing epidemic has global implications. "There is no time to misread the signals, with Asia facing life and death choices in preventing a full-blown AIDS catastrophe in the region," said Dr Piot.

More funding needed

Infections in Africa continue to increase and people are dying in large numbers. An estimated 25 million people are living with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa. There appears to be stabilization in HIV prevalence rates; but this is actually due to a rise in AIDS deaths and a continued increase in new infections.

Eastern Europe and Central Asia continue to have expanding epidemics. Some 1.3 million people are living with HIV. Russia, with over three million injecting drug users, remains one of the worst-affected countries in the region. But women account for an increasing share of newly diagnosed cases of HIV in Russia - up from one-in-four in 2001 to just one-in-three one year later. The Russian epidemic's most striking feature is the age of those infected - more than 80 per cent are under 30.

Funding needs continue to rise. Although global spending on AIDS has increased 15-fold from US$300 million in 1996 to just under US$5 billion in 2003, it is less than half of what will be needed by 2005 in developing countries. According to newly revised costing estimates, an estimated US$12 billion (up from US$10 billion) will be needed by 2005 and US$20 billion by 2007 for prevention and care in low- and middle-income countries.

At the launch, UK International Development Secretary Hilary Benn announced new UK funding of £116 million (US$214 million) over the next four years for UNAIDS and UNFPA, to help them tackle the global AIDS pandemic and improve sexual and reproductive health for women and young people in developing countries. "Last year over 1 million women died of AIDS," said Hilary Benn. "In sub-Saharan Africa, teenage girls are five times more likely to contract HIV than boys."

Poverty and inequality

"The latest figures are depressing and worrying," said Jane Moyo of ActionAid. "With more people than ever before contracting HIV and more dying of Aids, 'business as usual' cannot remain the answer. The world needs to spend a lot more money and it must also be more strategic in its approach to the epidemic. We must not only concentrate on the science of the HIV/Aids. The virus impacts on poor people the most and is a major threat to development. As the UNAIDS report shows, it is inextricably linked to poverty and inequality."

Other highlights of the UNAIDS report:

  • An estimated 15 million children under age 18 worldwide have lost one or both parents to AIDS - 12 million of them in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Women account for nearly half of all people living with HIV and 57 per cent in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Prevention programmes reach fewer than one in five people who need them. Comprehensive prevention could avert 29 million of the 45 million new infections projected by 2010.
  • The current supply of condoms is 40 per cent short of what is needed. By 2015, an estimated 19 billion condoms will be needed to prevent HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.
  • Five to six million people need HIV treatment in low- and middle-income countries, yet only 7 per cent - or 400,000 people - had access by end 2003.

    Jeremy Hamand is Associate Editor of People & the Planet website.