From Despair to Hope

Published: November 29, 2012

This Saturday, the world will commemorate World AIDS Day. I will be in Haiti, a country that has not forgotten its people living with HIV, as it rebuilds itself from the earthquake that devastated the nation two years ago. Within days of the earthquake, HIV treatment services were re-established and HIV prevention programs were integrated into the rehabilitation effort. Haiti serves as a model to remind us that we cannot fail the 34 million people living with HIV in the world — no matter the circumstance — natural disaster or economic crisis. New HIV infections in Haiti have dropped by 54 percent in the last decade and have reduced AIDS related-deaths by 46 percent in the last five years. More importantly, they have showed that we can move from despair to hope.

Last week UNAIDS released two reports — its annual World AIDS Day report "Results" and the bi-annual "Global Report on the AIDS Epidemic." Both reports have one message — the pace of progress is unprecedented. What used to take a decade is now being achieved in 24 months. We have to keep this momentum to reach the 2015 global AIDS targets and the millennium development goal (MDG) of halting and reversing the AIDS epidemic. Many countries are already achieving the MDGs.

We have excellent results — but we have a long ways to go in the next 1,000 days.

In 25 countries, the number of people becoming newly infected with HIV fell by more than 50 percent between 2001 and 2011. Half of them are from sub-Saharan Africa. In Ethiopia, new HIV infections fell by 90 percent, in Botswana by 71 percent, In Cambodia by 88 percent. Two countries with large numbers of people living with HIV, South Africa and India, saw new infections rates down by 41 percent and 57 percent, respectively. These are impressive results.

Together with new HIV infections, the number of people dying from AIDS is rapidly falling too, as more than 8 million people are accessing HIV treatment. The number of people added onto HIV treatment increased by 65 percent in the last two years — a record increase of 2.3 million people in sub-Saharan Africa. For the first time more than half of people eligible for antiretroviral therapy were receiving it. But there are nearly 7 million people waiting. Add to it the nearly 4 million discordant couples (where one partner is living with HIV and the other is not) who can benefit from access to treatment as prevention. Antiretroviral therapy has emerged as a powerful tool for saving lives — and we must extend this benefit for everyone who wants it. We have to begin first of all by encouraging people to know their HIV status. Today only half of the people living with HIV know their status.

In 2009, I made a call for the elimination of new HIV infections among children. For the past year, together with Ambassador Eric Goosby, the United States Global AIDS Coordinator, we have met with world leaders, business leaders and community groups in many countries to push this goal. There is good news for babies, we are seeing success. More than half of all reductions in new HIV infections globally have been among infants. In the past two years the number has come down by a quarter — this compared to the six years it took to achieve similar results in the past. We are making progress towards our target of zero new HIV infections among children.

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