The number of deaths attributed to the AIDS virus has declined by one-third worldwide since 2010, according to a new report by UNAIDS, a joint United Nations program. There were 770,000 AIDS-related deaths in 2018, down 33 percent over eight years, but progress varies across regions. Some countries continue to experience a rise in new cases of HIV infections and accompanying deaths.
This new report by the United Nations paints a clearer picture of the state of HIV infections worldwide. UNAIDS Executive Director Gunilla Carlsson and David Mabuza, Deputy President of South Africa, introduced the report at a community event in Eshowe, South Africa this month.
“We urgently need increased political leadership to end AIDS,” said Carlsson in a statement. “This starts with investing adequately and smartly and by looking at what’s making some countries so successful. Ending AIDS is possible if we focus on people, not diseases, create road maps for the people and locations being left behind, and take a human rights-based approach to reach people most affected by HIV.”
According to the latest data from UNAIDS, the number of people living with HIV has risen at the same time that the number of new HIV infections and the number of AIDS-related deaths have fallen. The report also highlights that key populations account for more than half of all new HIV infections; these populations include drug users, gay men, transgender people, sex workers and prisoners. According to the report, “People who inject drugs accounted for 41 percent of new HIV infections in eastern Europe and central Asia.”
The report warns that “key populations are still being marginalized and being left behind in the response to HIV.” Southern Africa is the region most affected by HIV, and central Asia has seen a 29 percent increase in HIV since 2010.
An estimated 37.9 million people globally live with HIV today, and a record 23.3 million people have access to some antiretroviral therapy, which can keep the infection in check for years. HIV-prevention drugs known as PrEP, or pre-exposure prophylaxis, can drastically reduce the risk of contracting the virus, but many of those who would benefit from it don’t have access to the drugs. The U.N. report says about 300,000 people used PrEP in 2018, 130,000 of whom were in the United States.
The report notes that while AIDS-related deaths have declined overall this decade, both the Middle East and North Africa have seen an uptick in deaths since 2010.
Meanwhile, medical researchers continue to work towards developing a cure. Earlier this month, researchers at Temple University announced they had succeeded in eliminating HIV from mice and said their results are an important advance in efforts to develop a cure for HIV infection in people. This was the first time the AIDS virus had been eradicated from the genomes of living animals, according to the authors of the study.