New York, 1 December 2015 – “World leaders have unanimously committed to ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030 as part of the Sustainable Development Goals adopted in September. This commitment reflects the power of solidarity to forge, from a destructive disease, one of the most inclusive movements in modern history”: on December 1, the date that like every year since 1988 marks the World AIDS Day, United Nations Secretary-General interprets the 193 UN member States’ agreement as a “new hope” to win the fight against the epidemic. Yet much needs to be done.
“By 2030, end the epidemics of AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and neglected tropical diseases and combat hepatitis, water-borne diseases and other communicable diseases”, says Target 3 of Goal 3 on Good Health. The mission is ambitious and requires rapid advancement actions, stressed Ban, after praising the stance of activists, health workers, human rights defenders and supporters. “The window of opportunity to act is closing. That is why I am calling for a Fast-Track approach to front-load investments and close the gap between needs and services”.
The Fast-Track approach is an ensemble of targets announced by The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) in 2014. The first set of them is to be reached by 2020, in order to open up the chance of eradicating the AIDS epidemic by 2030, which makes this and the next four years crucial for the overall mission. The 2020 targets include reducing the annual number of new HIV infections by more than 75%, to 500,000 in 2020, achieving zero discrimination and “90-90-90”: 90% of people living with HIV knowing about their status; 90% of people who know their HIV-positive status on treatment; and 90% of people on treatment with suppressed viral loads. It also highlights the need to focus on the counties, cities and communities most affected by HIV and recommends that funds be concentrated on the areas with the greatest impact.
“I look forward to the 2016 High-level Meeting of the General Assembly on AIDS as a critical chance for the world to commit to Fast-Track the end of AIDS”, added the UN Secretary-General stressing that “we need to more than double the number of people on life-changing treatment to reach all 37 million of those living with HIV. We need to provide adolescent girls and young women with access to education and real options to protect themselves from HIV. And we need to provide key populations with full access to services delivered with dignity and respect”.
Education, prevention, HIV testing and are key to such achievements: in 2015 it is still common to avoid taking tests, in the attempt of escaping virus-related stigma and discrimination, which results in significant delays in treatments. UNAIDS calculates that 17.1 million of the 36.9 million people living with HIV worldwide are not aware they have the virus.
“The good news is that we now have what it takes to break this epidemic and keep it from rebounding”, commented UNAID Executive Director Michel Sidibé, referring that “already we have reached 15.8 million people with life-saving treatment”.
The World Trade Organization also insisted on the need to accelerating expansion of antiretroviral therapy to all people living with HIV. The emphasis is linked to a new WHO report, according to which the number of deaths has fallen by 42% since the epidemic’s peak in 2004. Furthermore, in the last 15 years, 7.8 million lives have been saved and the number of new infections has dropped by 35%.
The stress on education was put by UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova:
“Young people, regardless of where they live, their sexual orientation or their gender identity, have the knowledge, skills, services, rights and power to protect themselves from HIV”. In her message, Bokova also reported that “only 26 per cent of girls and 33 per cent of boys between the ages of 15 and 19 have a full understanding of how HIV is transmitted and can be prevented. In Africa, AIDS-related illnesses continue to be the leading cause of death among adolescents, and among women of reproductive age.”
Coherent data were introduced on November 27, 2015 by UNICEF: since 2000 nearly 1.3 million new infections among children have been averted, largely due to advances in the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of the epidemic.
“By 2014, 3 in 5 pregnant women living with HIV received anti-retroviral treatment to prevent transmission of the virus to their babies. This has translated into a 60 per cent reduction in AIDS-related deaths among children under 4 years of age since 2000”, says a UNICEF report. However, the number of adolescents’ deaths has tripled since the turn of the century, with 26 new infections occurring every hour among 15-19 years old. South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, India, Mozambique and Tanzania the countries where about the half of HIV-positive population lives.