Landmarks get red lights as Aids Day
Global prevention, treatment and funding at a turning point
GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – Red lights are shining today on several world landmarks, including the Empire State Building and Stock Exchange in New York and the Sydney Opera House in Australia, to mark World Aids Day. The day has been noted officially since 1988, making it 23 years since we woke up to the reality that action on a massive scale was needed to stop the killer disease.
Funding was organized over the years, treatment and prevention research were stepped up, and patients began to find help. The World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva says that HIV infections fell by 15 percent in the past decade and Aids-related deaths fell by 22 percent.
The improvements came about largely because of better access to treatment and drugs, but just as hope has been growing, the global economic crises of the past three years are threatening to bite into that progress, the WHO and the Geneva-based Global Fund note.
And a number of groups remain at risk: teenage girls, drug users, men who have sex with men and babies born to women with HIV.
On the bright side, there is clear progress, says the WHO:
- “Improved access to HIV testing services enabled 61 percent of pregnant women in eastern and southern Africa to receive testing and counseling for HIV, up from 14 percent in 2005
- “Close to half (48 percent) of pregnant women in need receive effective medicines to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV (PMTCT) in 2010
- “Antiretroviral therapy (ART), which not only improves the health and well-being of the infected people but also stops further HIV transmission, is available now for 6.65 million people in low- and middle-income countries, accounting for 47% of the 14.2 million people eligible to receive it.”
The Global Fund notes that “the number of mothers receiving drugs to prevent them from transmitting HIV to their babies in countries which benefit from Global Fund support rose 30 per cent to 1.3 million from 1.0 million in December 2010.”
The WHO emphasizes that there is a strong economic incentive to continue funding Aids programmes, saying that healthier people are better able to cope financially.
The “Report on the global HIV/AIDS response” published 30 November points out that “investment in HIV services could lead to total gains of up to $34 billion by 2020 in increased economic activity and productivity, more than offsetting the costs of ART programmes.”
Funding cuts have arrived
But both the WHO and the Global Fund underscore their fears that funding cuts will have an impact on progress.
Overall development aid to fight HIV and Aids has been reduced by 10 percent since 2009, according to the Global Fund “and many ministries of health and non-governmental organizations have been looking to the Global Fund to replace some of this lost funding.” Its own funding is falling, however, and a week ago it announced that it will not be taking on new programmes before 2014, which prompted media talk of its demise.
Simon Bland, chair of the board of the Global Fund, says those reports are wrong. “The Global Fund has set as a goal to help save 10 million lives between today and 2016. The postponement of new funding is a setback to that goal.”
Groups marking Aids Day around the world are focusing attention on their 2011 campaign, which will guide them for the next three years, “Getting to Zero,”. The Global Fund says “this vision – to achieve ‘Zero new HIV infections. Zero discrimination. Zero AIDS-related deaths’ – is crucial to the success of all our efforts to turn the tide against HIV.”