Tuesday December 18, 2018

Experts Warn About The Return of AIDS Epidemic

In the U.S., HIV is increasingly an infection in communities with high rates of poverty and in black and Hispanic populations

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AIDS, Indonesia, HIV
Students with their faces painted with messages pose during an HIV/AIDS awareness campaign to mark the International AIDS Candlelight Memorial, in Chandigarh, India, May 20, 2018. (VOA)
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Thirty-six million people currently live with AIDS, a disease that claimed the lives of nearly 1 million people last year. Experts predict that by 2030, 100 million people will have been infected with the HIV virus.

Despite the alarming numbers, there have been great strides in treatment. HIV is no longer a death sentence, and researchers say people receiving treatment for HIV are able to live normal lives and do not pose a risk to others when they are being treated proactively.

But success carries a price: complacency. Funding for AIDS research and treatment has declined, and in some places, so has government interest.

“When we talk to ministers of finance, they always say to me, ‘I thought HIV was over because I don’t see anybody dying,’” said Dr. Deborah Birx, a U.S. Global AIDS coordinator who oversees the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).

J. Stephen Morrison of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said, “We’re not reaching goals.” He added, “There’s going to be a struggle to hold ground. … There’s a widening deficit of political will and financial capacity that we face some really daunting challenges in prevention.”

AIDS
A man walks past a banner tied on a bus before the start of a charity walk on HIV/AIDS at the Ebute Mata district in Nigeria’s commercial capital Lagos, April 21, 2012. (VOA)

Dr. Chris Beyrer, with Johns Hopkins Medicine, predicted that things will get worse if governments and civilians continue their complacency.

“We are not done with AIDS,” he said. “It is much too early to declare victory, and the risks of a resurgent epidemic are real.”

Birx, Morrison and Beyrer discussed the challenges in ending AIDS at a program in Washington to evaluate the messages from this year’s International AIDS Conference in Amsterdam.

New infections are down from 3.4 million a year, but they’re stuck at 1.8 million per year. And there are 17 million people living with HIV who cannot be reached. They are in high risk groups: young women, particularly young African women; men who have sex with men; IV drug users; those in prisons and other closed settings; sex workers and their clients; and transgender people.

“Those key populations and young women account for over 50 percent of new infections, and they are really hard to reach,” Morrison said.

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Though it’s relatively easy to prevent HIV transmission during childbirth, Beyrer said about 30 percent of all infants born with HIV worldwide are born in Nigeria.

In the U.S., HIV is increasingly an infection in communities with high rates of poverty and in black and Hispanic populations.

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The National Institutes of Health announced Aug. 20 that getting these groups into care is critical to ending the HIV epidemic in the U.S. NIH also announced an international program to reduce the stigma around the virus so more people with the disease can seek treatment.

Experts agree it is possible to end the HIV pandemic, even without a vaccine. But to do this, governments and communities need to be involved, funding needs to be continued, and everyone with HIV needs to be treated. (VOA)

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HIV Epidemic Spreading Rapidly In Pakistan: WHO

U.N. officials say the Pakistan government urgently needs to redouble efforts to "de-stigmatize HIV testing.

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HIV, AIDS Pakistan
The World Health Organization warns Pakistan is registering approximately 20,000 new HIV infections annually, the highest rate of increase among all countries in the region. VOA

Pakistan is registering approximately 20,000 new HIV infections annually, the highest rate of increase among all countries in the region, warns the World Health Organization (WHO).

The international body says mortality among Pakistanis living with the virus, which causes the deadly AIDS disease, is also rising, in spite of the availability of lifesaving antiretroviral therapy.

The latest government figures show that only 16 percent of the estimated 150,000 people living with HIV had been tested and only 9 percent have access to lifesaving treatment.

“The remaining 135,000 people are walking around in the communities as carriers of (HIV) infection who are ready to transmit infections to those who are not infected, even to their unborn babies,” Dr. Saima Paracha of the National AIDS Control Program, told VOA.

HIV. Pakistan
Participants hold placards in the shape of the red ribbon, the universal symbol of awareness and support for those living with HIV, as a hot air balloon is released during an awareness campaign ahead of World AIDS Day in Kolkata, India. VOA

Officials say the HIV epidemic in Pakistan remains largely concentrated among the key populations, including people who inject drugs, the transgender community, sex workers and their clients and men who have sex with men.

“The drivers of infection are now the sexual networks and they are ready to spill the infection into the general public,” Dr. Paracha cautioned.

Paracha says the Pakistani government offers free HIV testing and treatment, but she notes the marginalized key populations continue face widespread stigma and discrimination in the society.

The fear of maltreatment, and punitive actions by law enforcers impacts the willingness of these populations to pursue testing, which remains a major challenge facing national efforts to treat and prevent the spread of HIV, she lamented.

Official estimates show that Pakistan has seen a 45 percent increase in new HIV infections since 2010.

HIV AIDS, Pakistan
A patient is seen in a ward at the state-run Lavra clinic, Ukraine’s main HIV treatment center, in Kyiv. VOA

“The number of new HIV infections will continue to increase dramatically if implementation rates of intervention remain at current levels,” said Dr. Nima Saeed Abid, country head of WHO.

An official statement issued in connection with World AIDS Day quoted him as saying that Pakistan has the lowest rate of all regional countries in diagnosing people who are infected and linking them to care and treatment.

Naila Bashir, who heads the HIV treatment center at Islamabad’s Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS), told VOA the facility receives up to 40 new HIV patients every month, underscoring the alarming increase in the number of infections.

The center was established in 2005 and the number of patients has since increased from 22 to more than 3,000, including men, women and children of all ages, said Dr. Bashir.

HIV, Pakistan, AIDS
Nearly a million people still die every year from AIDS. VOA

HIV has never been a priority program in the national health system and the recent abolition of the federal health ministry and the devolution of its functions to the provinces, which lacked preparedness and capacity, have led to the increase in infections, say WHO experts in the country. However, they acknowledge the new government of Prime Minister Imran Khan is giving priority to tackling health emergencies in Pakistan, including HIV.

Federal Minister for National Health Services Regulation and Coordination, Aamir Mehmood Kiyani, says the government is working on a strategy to remove barriers and challenges in protecting people from HIV infections.

Also Read: Eastern Europe Sees A Rise In Number of HIV Cases

Kiyani told a seminar in Islamabad that since taking office three months ago, the government has moved to established 12 new HIV treatment centers while overall 33 such facilities have been working throughout Pakistan.

U.N. officials say the Pakistan government urgently needs to redouble efforts to “de-stigmatize HIV testing, advocate for confidential, non-discriminatory, community based care models and raise awareness about disease transmission, prevention treatment” to achieve reductions in new infections in affected populations. (VOA)