Good News On HIV: 1.4 Million Child Infections Averted

It would seem as though some battles are being won in the fight against HIV/AIDS, with 1.4 million new infections among children under 15 successfully averted since the year 2010.

According to Dr Idris Baba – HIV/AIDS specialist with UNICEF in Kaduna, Nigeria – 80% of pregnant women with HIV are now receiving effective treatment, as a result of which the number of new infections in children had been reduced by one third. While in 2010, the number stood at 270 000, last year it was at 180 000.

The numbers are encouraging, especially in light of how many people are still affected by this disease.

“An estimated 1.8 million adolescents aged 10 to 19 years were living with HIV worldwide in 2017,” Dr Baba said. “An adolescent girl is newly infected with HIV every three minutes.”

Dr Baba was speaking at a media meeting on Prevention of Mother to Child transmission (PMTCT) and support for Adolescents and Young Persons (AYP). In Sub-Saharan countries like Namibia, Swaziland and South Africa, there is more advancement in this health battle. The Joint UN Agency on AIDS (UNAIDS) set the global target for 73% of people on antiretroviral treatment to be virally supressed by 2020. However, in Namibia, 77% of people are already virally supressed, making them the first country to meet this target – and exceed it by three years.

Moreover, Namibia was able to reduce its rate of new HIV infections by 50% over the past three years.

“This means we are on track to control the HIV epidemic,” said Namibian Health Minister Bernard Haufiku, speaking at the International AIDS Conference. “Treatment is also prevention.”

In addition, both South Africa and Swaziland has had a 44% reduced rate of infections, while Botswana was at 30%.

Because people with viral suppression are no longer infectious, they are unlikely to pass HIV to others. As a result of sustained access to antiretrovirals, AIDS-related deaths are currently at 940 000. According to the UNAIDS report, Miles to go – closing gaps, breaking barriers, righting injustices – that was released last month, this is the lowest number for this century. Moreover, three out of four people living with HIV now know their status  – which enables them to get treatment – while a record number of 21.7 million people are currently on treatment.

However, this does not mean the fight is over

Despite the remarkable gains made in order to meet the goals set for 2020, Michél Sidibe – UNAIDS Executive Director – explains that the global AIDS response is at “a precarious point.” While certain areas are doing well, globally, the pace of progress is not yet matching the ambition. In order to reach the 30 million target there needs to be an annual increase of 2.8 million people for the next three years.

“AIDS is not over, but it can be. At the halfway point to the 2020 targets, we must recommit ourselves to achieve them,” said Sidibe. “The successes in HIV treatment show what can be done when we put our minds to it. People living with HIV are leading longer, healthier lives. But we still have miles to go. We have promises to keep.”

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