MDG 6: HIV/AIDS, Malaria, & other Diseases

This is the sixth in a series of posts focusing on the UN’s Millennium Development Goals. The MDGs are a set of eight interrelated goals that were agreed upon by over 180 countries worldwide. They aim to improve the social, economic, and political lives of all people, and are to be achieved by 2015. Two years out from this deadline, it is important to recognize how far we’ve come and how far we have to go.

The sixth MDG is made up of three targets aimed at combatting HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases. Progress has been made on each of the three objectives. These three goals are to:

  • Have halted and begun to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS by 2015
  • Achieve universal access to treatment for HIV/AIDS by 2010
  • Have halted and begun to reverse the spread of malaria and other major diseases by 2015

New HIV infections are declining in most regions. Although, with improved health care resulting in less deaths from AIDS, more people are living with HIV than ever. This makes it even more difficult to contain the disease, resulting in a fairly high and inelastic 2.5 million new infections each year. This phenomenon is not helped by the fact that complete knowledge of HIV transmission and condom use are still low among the younger population.

Over two-thirds of new HIV cases occur in sub-Saharan Africa, presenting an opportunity for redoubled efforts there to increase public awareness and improve access to treatment. It is also important to improve the lives of HIV victims and their families in the short-term. For example, more orphans are attending school thanks to programs to minimize the effects of AIDS.

Availability of treatment for HIV/AIDS increased in all regions between 1990 and 2011, although universal access was not achieved by the goal date of 2010. During 2011, significant progress was made in providing care to the 34 million people living with HIV worldwide. The number of people receiving antiretroviral therapy (ART) that year jumped from 6.6 million to 8 million. By the end of 2012, 9.7 million people in developing nations had access to ART. ART is usually a combination of at least three drugs that keep the HIV virus under control. The technique has consistently been shown to reduce mortality and suffering rates among individuals with HIV, and is most effective in the early stages of the disease. This makes it even more important that universal access to treatment is achieved. Roughly 15 million people in developing areas are in need of ART. Currently, 55% of this need is being met and, as of 2011, eleven countries have achieved universal access to ART. Building upon this progress will ensure that all HIV patients receive the treatment they need.

One of the most troublesome things about HIV/AIDS is that it weakens the immune system and makes patients more vulnerable to a wide variety of other diseases. This is harmful to patients already suffering from HIV, and it increases the transmission rates of diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis (TB) to otherwise healthy people. The third facet of MDG 6 is concerned with these other diseases. Exciting progress has been made in regards to malaria and TB in recent years, propelling us towards a future without these diseases.

Between 2000 and 2010, the incidence of malaria fell by 17% and the malaria-specific mortality rate fell by a full quarter. This represents 1.1 million lives saved from this horrifying disease. Malaria is caused by a parasite that is transmitted by the bites of infected mosquitoes. One effective and simple way to prevent the spread of malaria is to sleep under bed nets treated with insecticides. Now, thanks to increased funding, more children in sub-Saharan Africa are sleeping safely under these nets. This type of preventive work with children is especially important, given that the majority of people who die from malaria are children under five in Africa. It also aids in working towards the fourth MDG: a two-thirds reduction of the 1990 child mortality rate by 2015. This is just one example of the numerous intersections of the eight MDGs. When malaria prevention and treatment opportunities improve, child mortality generally falls. In fact, when a country expands the availability of malaria control interventions, child mortality drops by about 20%.

Tuberculosis (TB) is another prevalent infectious disease facing the developing world today. In 2011, it infected an estimated 8.7 million people and killed roughly 1.4 million. TB is caused by a bacterial infection most often occurring in the lungs. It is transmitted by water droplets from the throat and lungs of infected individuals. People with strong immune systems are generally able to fight off the disease without symptoms. However, for people whose immune systems are compromised in any way, including individuals who are HIV-positive, TB becomes a life-threatening illness. Treatment for this disease lasts six-months, and universal access has yet to be achieved. Despite these obstacles, however, 51 million people were successfully treated for TB between 1995 and 2011. Over that time period, the world saw the mortality rate for TB decrease by over 40%. These incredible innovations have been possible by prolonged efforts on many fronts. These include a WHO program aiming to detect TB earlier in Swaziland, the country with the highest rate of TB, and cheaper testing thanks to a partnership between the US government, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and Unitaid.

HIV/AIDS, malaria, and TB represent some of the greatest causes of poverty in the world today. These debilitating and often fatal diseases dramatically affect the lives of billions of people worldwide, and the progress made so far is astounding. Treatment for HIV is more available than ever before. Incidence of malaria is on the decline, as is the mortality rate for people suffering from it. TB testing and treatment are becoming increasingly available, effective, and efficient. These incredible achievements are just the beginning. They should serve to show us that we can effectively prevent and treat even the most widespread diseases, that we can save millions of lives every year, and that we are capable of much more than we think.

– Katie Fullerton

Sources: WHO Table WHO ART Information WHO MDG UN The Guardian
Photo: The Guardian