HIV epidemic reversing, but young still vulnerable

WHONEW DELHI: The HIV/AIDS epidemic shows signs of reversal globally and in South-East Asia. WHO and countries are now working towards zero new HIV infections, zero deaths from AIDS-related illnesses and zero discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS. To achieve this goal, on World AIDS Day 2012, WHO has emphasized the need for all people to learn about their HIV status, and for greater effort to reach and support young people, men who have sex with men, sex workers, people who inject drugs, migrants and others who are most vulnerable to the disease.

The HIV epidemic is now clearly reversing. In 2011, 2.2 million people across the world were infected with HIV and 1.7 million died, half a million fewer new infections than 10 years ago, and 600 000 fewer deaths than 2005. In all 11 countries of WHO’s South-East Asia Region, there was a 35% reduction in new infections, from 320 000 in 2001 to 208 500 in 2011.
“The overall decline in the Region is cause for increased optimism, however complacency now could become our greatest enemy,” said Dr Samlee Plianbangchang, Regional Director, WHO South-East Asia. “Those most vulnerable to HIV are also among the least empowered and HIV prevention care and treatment services for these people need to be made available and accessible”, he added.
One of the key factors contributing to fewer people being infected with HIV is increased access to antiretroviral therapy (ART) and expansion of HIV prevention programs.
In the Region, 46% of adults in need of treatment were enrolled in care and treatment by the end of 2011 – up from 12% in 2005. The coverage for HIV treatment in children is 39% in 2011 – up from 9% in 2005. Starting treatment early reduces morbidity and mortality due to HIV, and recent studies have also confirmed the prevention benefits of early treatment in uninfected regular sexual partners of HIV-infected individuals. This has led experts to aim towards end of HIV/AIDS.
While there is much to rejoice, challenges remain. Nearly half of those in need of treatment are not getting it. Vulnerable groups such as sex workers, people who inject drugs, and men who have sex with men (MSM), continue to face stigma and discrimination in accessing prevention, care and treatment services.
There is urgent need to expand and decentralize HIV testing services to capture those who are HIV-positive and link them into care. Linkages between programs are critical to expand the reach of services.
WHO launched the updated treatment guidelines for adults, children and pregnant women in 2010. Consolidated guidelines are currently being developed that will have both normative and operational guidance on scaling up testing and treatment services. These will also look at models of care beyond the health sector to enhance community and health sector linkages. These guidelines will be launched in 2013.

India Post News Service

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