The XIX International AIDS Conference held this summer in Washington, DC proved that a turning point has been reached in the worldwide effort to fight this epidemic. Organizations such as UNAIDS and the World Health Organization (WHO) report that they are now entering the final stage of the fight.
Among the most important results of the Conference was the change in attitude that many experts now have in regards to the fight against AIDS/HIV.
WHO Director-General Margaret Chan commented on the effectiveness of the treatment that was developed after many years fighting the epidemic: “Over all this heartbreakingly long time, we have learned enough, invented enough to gain the upper hand. For the first time, we are in a position to turn the epidemic around and celebrate its end.”
WHO Senior Advisor Dr. Andrew Ball told MediaGlobal that “the latest figures tell a success story, with evidence of a declining global epidemic. In 2011, an estimated 2.2 million people worldwide were newly infected with HIV, representing half a million fewer than in 2001. However, the declines in new HIV infections are uneven across the world.”
“One of the greatest successes over the past ten years has been the rapid scale up of antiretroviral therapy for people living with HIV. Some 1.5 million more people in low and middle income countries started taking antiretrovirals in 2011-bringing the total number up to 8 million,” said Ball.
WHO and other organizations with the elimination of AIDS as their goal have been working together as part of a Global Action Plan to help reduce the number of infected children by the year 2015. This has been said to be entirely feasible, as data from 2011 displayed how 57 percent of the estimated 1.5 million pregnant women living with HIV from low and middle-income countries received effective antiretroviral drugs to avoid transmission to the child.
“WHO plays a key role in leading, with UNICEF, the UN efforts to eliminate new HIV infections in children and protecting the health of mothers,” says Ball. “WHO supports implementation of the plan in a number of ways.”
Examples of WHO’s support is the strong advocacy role to gain wide support from many areas of the world, as well as their promoting of integrated HIV interventions into maternal, neonatal, child, sexual and reproductive health services. Finally, WHO provides normative guidance, including procedures for the prevention of mother to child transmission of HIV; infant feeding and HIV; and HIV treatment and care for mothers, infants and children.
Though experts report that the spread of AIDS and HIV has seen improvement, Dr. Chan warns that there is still a long way to go before it’s wiped out of existence according to Dr. Chan. “But we must keep our eyes on the reality. Scientific breakthroughs have opened exciting opportunities for prevention as well as treatment. But these opportunities are tempered by the demands of sustainability, in a climate of financial austerity nearly everywhere.”
Conference participants also debated to what extent antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) had become a more prevalent drug in the fight against HIV. The development of new treatment optimizations was also discussed at large within the conference.
As Dr. Ball mentions, this included talks on “drug and drug regimen optimization, improved and simpler HIV diagnostics, and more efficient service delivery. Strategies for price/cost reduction were featured, including opportunities for reducing the prices of ARVs and the costs of different services.”
Other results from the conference were the possibility of eliminating mother-to-child transmission of HIV and the treatment of mothers and children living with HIV. In particular, importance was given towards the health of mothers by offering antiretroviral treatment (ART) for all pregnant women living with HIV.
Finally, the conference also looked to the future and at the potential for interventions to eliminate HIV from those who are already infected. The HIV “Cure” movement gained importance with new developments in basic science research. Although the conclusion was that there is still a long way to finding a cure, there is promising research for the future to achieve this goal.