Over the past 15 years, many lessons have been learned, and much hope has been gained toward the future of eradicating HIV. The U.N. Executive Summary on Aids, published this last month, highlights many hopes and lessons learned over that time period.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon writes in the introduction, “The AIDS response has been like no other. From the start it has put the focus on people and put their needs first. It has been a turning point for the recognition of health as a human right.”
The HIV response has been one of the greatest unifying factors in the modern world. Hundreds of countries have put aside their differences, be it social, political or economic, to combat the spread of AIDS. In 2001, $4.9 billion was invested in combattng HIV, today that number is over $32 billion.
With experience comes the opportunity to learn and share. Here are a few of lessons from the past 15 years:
Global access to antiretroviral treatment is key
As more and more people have received access to HIV testing, those who are infected are more likely to receive the proper treatment—helping them live better lives and preventing the virus from spreading to others. In 2001, one million people worldwide were on HIV antiretroviral therapy.
In 2014, that number had grown to over 15 million. The goal is to give medical access to all infected individuals by 2030.
The impact generated by people receiving treatment is the bar by which success is measured. This is because of the direct correlation between HIV treatment and death from AIDS. The summary states, “Treatment access has resulted in AIDS-related deaths declining by more than 42% between 2004 and 2014.
An estimated 1.2 million [1.0 million–1.5 million] people died of AIDS-related causes globally in 2014, but in the absence of antiretroviral therapy, AIDS-related deaths would have risen to 2.0 million by 2014.”
Transmission prevention among children
Infants born with HIV has been a focus strategy in AIDS globally. Millions of children were becoming orphans due to infected parents dying from AIDS. In 2009 14.4 million children were orphaned due to AIDS, over the last 6 years that number dropped to 13.3 million.
Another major concern was the transfer of HIV from pregnant mothers to children. In 2001, 580,000 children were infected with HIV. Today that number has been reduced by a little over 50 percent. The strategy educates and recognizes that childbirth is not the only means of infection, but even breastfeeding can lead to HIV infection.
The prevention strategy aggressively targets pregnant women who are infected with HIV. By providing testing, education and treatment, the transmission has been successfully halted and is now being reversed. The goal is to reduce the number to less than 50,000 HIV infections among children by 2030.
Safe Sex and HIV awareness
The youth are the leaders of tomorrow. Educating and preparing them to lead the world tomorrow is one of the keys in fighting HIV and AIDS. When HIV first became widely known in the 1980’s and 1990’s, many misunderstandings prevailed. The disease was thought to be only spread by homosexuals and many did not understand how it was contracted.
As time has gone by, campaigns to spread HIV awareness have led to young people understanding the two best methods of preventing HIV transmission—reducing the number of sexual partners and using condoms.
In 2001, awareness among youth worldwide about HIV was at 25 percent, with most being in developed nations. Today, that number is close to 35 percent. The goal is to raise awareness over 90 percent by the year 2030. The goal of reducing multiple sexual partners has been modest at the most, but still progressive.
Globally, condom use has increased, but levels are still too infrequent among youth in Central and Western Africa (large HIV-populated regions). Sub-Saharan Africa is a huge target population and conservative efforts have been made to allow access to contraceptives such as condoms.
Financing and Aid will allow us to reach the U.N. goals
Over the past 15 years, the fight has moved from millions of dollars to billions being spent annually. This has allowed the resources needed to be allocated appropriately.
The world has learned from HIV that political commitment for public health investments can continuously be created and when adequate levels of spending on health is allowed, it leads to unprecedented levels of success.
At this point in time, the United States cannot waiver in its support of programs funding HIV and AIDS prevention. Hard lessons learned have helped us unite and combat one of the deadliest outbreaks in world history. The road ahead is still going to be hard, but it is not out of reach.
– Adnan Khalid
Sources: UNAIDS, World Bank
Photo: UN AIDS