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World AIDS Day 2010

December 01, 2010

Aids-ribbon The Wikipedia entry for World AIDS Day states right up front that AIDS has killed more than 25 million people since 1981, making it one of the most destructive epidemics in recorded history.

As we pause to remember the millions whose lives have been cut short by the scourge of HIV/AIDS, consider these facts (courtesy of UNAIDS and the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation):

  • There were 33.3 million people living with HIV at the end of 2009, up from 28.6 million in 2001.
  • A total of 1.8 million people died of AIDS in 2009, down from 2.1 million in 2004.
  • The global prevalence rate (percent of people between the ages of 15 and 49 who are infected) has leveled off since 2001 and was 0.8% in 2009.
  • New HIV infections are believed to have peaked in the late 1990s and to have declined from 3.1 million in 2001 to 2.6 million in 2009. HIV incidence fell by more than 25% in 33 countries between 2001 and 2009.
  • Most new infections are transmitted heterosexually, although risk factors vary.
  • Women represent slightly more than half of all people living with HIV worldwide and 60% in sub-Saharan Africa. In sub-Saharan Africa, the HIV prevalence rate among young women (ages 15-24) is more than double that of their male counterparts.
  • There were 2.5 million children living with HIV in 2009, 370,000 new infections among children, and 260,000 child AIDS deaths. There are approximately 16.6 million AIDs orphans (children who have lost one or both parents to HIV), most of whom (89%) live in sub-Saharan Africa.

As grim as these statistics are, they offer some hope. Indeed, as former President Bill Clinton notes in an op-ed in the London-based Independent, there's reason for optimism. Writes Clinton:

On World AIDS Day ten years ago, as I was preparing to leave office, the world was only beginning to grasp the severity of the AIDS crisis. Nearly 36,000,000 men, women and children were living with the disease, but only about 200,000 were receiving the treatment they needed. Funding was nowhere near the levels needed to prevent the disease from reaching pandemic levels.

Over the last decade, we have seen dramatic progress in both treatment and funding. In 2008 alone, $15 billion was invested to fight AIDS in developing countries, up from $6 billion just three years earlier, due in large part to the U.S. Government’s PEPFAR (President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) program.

This summer, I witnessed one of the greatest examples of this progress when I attended the World Cup in South Africa, which has the largest number of people living with HIV/ AIDS in the world. For too long, the South African government did too little, but this year it committed to testing tens of millions of South Africans and to more than double the numbers on treatment. I'm honored that they have invited the Clinton Health Access Initiative to work alongside them to reach this goal.

South Africa's new actions reflect a sense of urgency and shared purpose in Africa -- and in other parts of the world
-- that didn't exist ten years ago. Donor nations, the Global Fund on AIDS, TB, and Malaria, and non-governmental organizations, including the Elton John AIDS Foundation, the Gates Foundation, and many others, have provided indispensable contributions to raising the level of consciousness, concern, and commitment to a level that will save millions of lives....

As is the case in so many areas of need, fallout from the economic crisis has strained public- and private-sector budgets around the world and threatens to slow the progress made over the last decade in the fight against AIDS. To make sure that doesn't happen, writes Clinton, donor nations, national governments, and philanthropy must "do more with less." That means:

  • saving money on commodities and promoting better coordination of funding between donors and national governments;
  • better coordination of funding flows between donors and national governments to ensure that resources are aligned withe the most pressing national priorities;
  • maximixing return on investment by ensuring that low-cost/high-impact interventions are adopted on a wider scale; and
  • urging donor nations to review their own HIV/AIDS budgets with a view to reducing overhead.

Worlds AIDS Day is a powerful reminder of all that has been done -- and all that remains to be done -- to end the death and suffering caused by AIDS. It's a battle we're winning and that can be won. We owe it to the future to make sure we do.

-- Mitch Nauffts

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