UNAIDS sounds alarm …As entire regions lag in achieving 2020 HIV targets

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By Lahja Nashuuta

Windhoek - The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) has expressed concern regarding the pace at which many countries are moving towards the attainment of 2020 HIV targets.

According to UNAIDS, the rate of progress made so far does not match the global ambition.

In 2014, UNAIDS and partners launched the 90-90-90 targets. The aim was to ensure that by 2020, 90% of all people living with HIV will know their HIV status, 90% of all people diagnosed HIV positive will receive sustained antiretroviral therapy, and 90% of all people receiving anti-retroviral therapy will have viral suppression.

According to a UNAIDS report released recently titled “Miles to go — closing gaps, breaking barriers, righting injustices”, although progress has been made towards the 90-90-90 targets, most countries still lag behind.

The report indicated that only six countries, Botswana, Cambodia, Denmark, eSwatini, Namibia and the Netherlands, have reached the 90-90-90 targets and seven more countries are on track.

For instance, in Namibia 86% of the population living with HIV is aware of their infection status, 96% of the patients who understand that they are infected with the virus are receiving treatment and 91% of those under treatment have achieved suppression of the virus, a Namibian research conducted in 2017 by the Namibia Population-based HIV Impact Assessment (NAMPHIA) revealed.

According to the UNAIDS report, the largest gap is in western and central Africa, where only 48% of people living with HIV know their status.

The report further revealed that between 2015 and 2017, globally three-quarters of all people living with HIV knew their HIV status; of the people, who knew their status, 79% were accessing treatment in 2017 and of the people accessing treatment, 81% had suppressed viral loads.

Furthermore, the report indicated that globally new HIV infections have declined by just 18% in the past seven years, from 2.2 million in 2010 to 1.8 million in 2017.

The reduction in new HIV infections has been strongest in the region most affected by HIV ‑ eastern and southern Africa ‑ where new HIV infections have been reduced by 30% since 2010. However, new HIV infections are rising in around 50 countries.

In eastern Europe and central Asia, the annual number of new HIV infections has doubled, and new HIV infections have increased by more than a quarter in the Middle East and North Africa over the past 20 years.

Despite the progress, UNAIDS expressed concern that although this is nearly half the number of new infections compared to the peak in 1996 (3.4 million), the decline is not quick enough to reach the target of fewer than 500,000 people by 2020.

“We are sounding the alarm, entire regions are falling behind,” said Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of UNAIDS.

He noted that the huge gains we made for children are not being sustained, women are still most affected, resources are still not matching political commitments and key populations continue to be ignored.

“All these elements are halting progress and urgently need to be addressed head-on,” Sidibé said. In 2017, an estimated 36.9 million people were living with HIV (including 1.8 million children) with a global HIV prevalence of 0.8% among adults. Around 25% of these same people do not know that they have the virus.

The report further indicates the vast majority of people living with HIV are located in low- and middle-income countries, with an estimated 66% living in Sub-Saharan Africa. Among this group, 19.6 million are living in East and Southern Africa, which saw 800,000 new HIV infections in 2017.

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