A new report by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) Regional Support Team for Eastern and Southern Africa shows that AIDS-related deaths are continuing to decline as access to antiretroviral therapy increases across the region.
Several countries, including Botswana, Ethiopia, Kenya, Namibia, Rwanda, Zambia and Zimbabwe saw a reduction at least 50% in the number of AIDS-related deaths since 2005. The report outlines that TB/HIV related deaths also decreased––by about 30% from the peak in the mid 2000’s.
According to the report, the sharp declines in AIDS-related deaths are largely due to the widespread roll out of antiretroviral therapy. The number of people living with HIV accessing antiretroviral therapy increased from 625 000 in 2005 to 6.3 million in 2012 with coverage reaching particularly high levels in several countries including Botswana, Namibia, Rwanda, Swaziland and Zambia.
“Countries in eastern and southern Africa are making great strides in responding to HIV. This is good news––fewer people are dying of AIDS and fewer are becoming infected with the virus,” said UNAIDS Executive Director, Michel Sidibé. “It’s time to intensify our collective efforts to build on the progress and tremendous hope that has been brought to people across the region.”
Steep declines in new HIV infections
The report, Getting to Zero: the HIV epidemic in the eastern and southern Africa, highlights that the number of new HIV infections among children were reduced by half from 2001 to 2011 and new infections among adults aged 15-49 reduced by around a third. Services to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV in eastern and southern Africa increased to 72% in 2011 allowing nearly 700 000 pregnant women living with HIV access to medicines to keep their babies free from HIV––100 000 more than just one year earlier.
“In South Africa we have made significant progress in reducing new infections among children. We should keep the momentum going,” said South African Minister of Health, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi. “We need to ensure that women continue to benefit from universal access to antiretroviral treatment so that we can reduce maternal mortality. No women or baby should be left behind.”
The report outlines that the number of new infections among adults also declined––from 1.7 million in 2001 to 1.2 million in 2011––with the rate of new infections declining by more than 50% in seven countries––Botswana, Ethiopia, Malawi, Namibia, Rwanda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
“HIV prevention is critical to reducing the negative impacts of HIV and AIDS to the development of our people and economies,” said the Ethiopian Minister of Health, Dr Kesetebirhan Admassu. “Our government with the help of its partners is making every effort to expand primary health care at the grass root level to promote responsible and healthy sexual and reproductive health behaviour.”
Young women most affected by HIV
HIV prevalence among young women and men (aged 15–24 years) declined by 40% in 2011 compared to a decade earlier. However, new infections among young people remain particularly high––450 000 in 2011. The report also shows that young women (between 15–24 years old) in eastern and southern Africa region are particularly affected. Estimated HIV prevalence among young was 4.5% in 2011––more than double the prevalence among young men.
“At the core of the high infections among women is not just the biological make up of women, but negative social norms and excessive violation of their basic human rights,” said Michaela Clayton Director of AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa. “We have to put in place and effectively implement laws and policies that protect women and ensure they have access to education that integrates health and sexuality education.”
The report notes that revised guidelines released by World Health Organization last month, recommend that people living with HIV start antiretroviral therapy much earlier and immediately in some instances. This, the report outlines, will enable countries to capitalize on the progress made to date and reach more people with lifesaving medicines.
“Civil society plays a critical role in ensuring access to treatment and holding governments accountable. We need to be vigilant about the human rights of people living with HIV and find better ways to deal with stigma and discrimination, which are still significant barriers to access to health services and live-saving treatment”, said Prudence Mabele, Executive Director of the Positive Women’s Network.
SOURCE : United Nations Joint Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS)