On June 5, 1981, the first HIV case was reported in the US. In June 2001, the UN General Assembly Special Session on Aids declared it a “global emergency”. This week, world leaders will meet for a UN General Assembly on Aids to chart the way forward.
By the end of 2010, 34 million people globally were living with HIV (the virus that causes Aids) and 30 million had died of it. UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé on why this is a pivotal moment in the battle against the epidemic.
Is the world winning or losing the Aids battle?
HIV infections have fallen by nearly 25% between 2001 and 2009; emerging nations such as India, China, Indonesia and Brazil are leading the fight against it. Sixty countries have stabilised infection, including India and South Africa, which are home to the largest number of people with HIV.
How much of a difference was made by cheaper Aids drugs from India?
In 2001, no one had access to treatment. Now 86% of drugs given to poor people are from India. Within 10 years of setting the goal to provide treatment to all, 6.6 million people were on antiretroviral therapy (drugs used to treat HIV infection) at the end of 2010, a nearly 22-fold increase since 2001.
Still, nine million more need treatment. I would think it is immoral if it is not possible for us to treat them.
Has the recession affected funding?
It’s a pity that the financial crisis has forced the world to make budgetary adjustments, but we have to maintain the momentum. In 2010, international Aids resources declined for the first time in a decade. An investment of at least US $ 22 billion is needed by 2015, US$ 6 billion more than is available today, to prevent 12 million new infections and 7.4 million Aids-related deaths by 2020.
New infections will decline from about 2.5 million in 2009 to about 1 million in 2015.
What is driving the new infection now?
Seventy-nine countries still have homophobic laws, with 116 criminalising some aspect of sex work. Thirty-three countries have death penalty for drug-related offences. We are not calling to legalise drug use. We just don’t want drug users to be excluded from harm-reduction services (such as treatment, methadone treatment and needle-exchange programmes for addicts) because this creates infection.
What are the new hotspots of infection?
The epidemic is growing faster in eastern Europe and Central Asia, where injecting drugs and sex work is fuelling infection.
What more needs to be done?
We need new partnerships between India and Africa to transfer technology to help African countries make cheaper Aids drugs. I wanted to discuss it with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on his visit to Addis Abiba last month, but my flight got cancelled. I’ll do so in July.