Wednesday March 20, 2019

UNAIDS : World Is At A “Defining Moment” In A Battle Against HIV/AIDS

36.7 million people globally are living with HIV

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Michel Sidibe, Executive Director of Joint UN Program on HIV/AIDS, speaks during a news conference, Sept. 25, 2014.
Michel Sidibe, Executive Director of Joint UN Program on HIV/AIDS, speaks during a news conference, Sept. 25, 2014., VOA

The head of UNAIDS says the global community is at a “defining moment” in the effort to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic by 2030.

“This midpoint is important for us to reflect on what was not working,” Michel Sidibe told VOA, noting this year marks the halfway point to agreed global targets. “It’s about how to deal with vulnerable communities, fragile society.”

According to 2016 data, 36.7 million people globally are living with HIV. There were nearly 2 million new infections and 1 million AIDS-related deaths.

But the good news is there has been success in expanding access to critical anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs), which reached nearly 21 million people in 2016, leading to a reduction by one-third in global AIDS-related deaths.

Eliminating mother-to-child HIV transmission through childbirth and breast-feeding also has become a real possibility by 2030. This was considered a dream just a few years ago, Sidibe said.

“Today, we are seeing after six years that we reduced by almost 61 percent the infection among children — the transmission from mother to child,” Sidibe said. “But we still have 39 percent of babies born with HIV. We want to stop that and we are working very closely with countries who are lagging behind to make sure we have a catch-up plan.”

Scientist Professor Salim Abdool Karim, a South African epidemiologist and infectious diseases specialist, and one of the conveners of the march leads people during the 'March for Science' in Durban on April 14, 2018.
Scientist Professor Salim Abdool Karim, a South African epidemiologist and infectious diseases specialist, and one of the conveners of the march leads people during the ‘March for Science’ in Durban on April 14, 2018. VOA

Know your HIV status

The UNAIDS executive director says one of the most critical factors in ending the epidemic is making sure people are tested and know their HIV status. This requires lifting taboos and making testing more widely available.

“We need to reduce the price of self-testing; we need to go to community levels, family levels, to reach people where they are,” he said. “The family-centered approach and also community-based approach will become central to what we will do in the future, if we want to reach those millions of people who don’t know their status.”

A recent United Nations report on the AIDS response found that at the end of 2016, some 70 percent of people living with HIV knew their status, and 77 percent of them were accessing ARV therapy. Once on those treatments, 82 percent had suppressed the virus to undetectable levels in their systems. That is not a cure. HIV still remains in their body, but it greatly reduces the likelihood of transmission to a partner.

45-year-old Oscar Tyumre uses an HIV self-testing kit, administered by students from the University of the Witwatersrand in Hillbrow, Johannesburg, on March 19, 2018.
45-year-old Oscar Tyumre uses an HIV self-testing kit, administered by students from the University of the Witwatersrand in Hillbrow, Johannesburg, on March 19, 2018.
VOA

Uneven progress

While there have been significant successes, progress is uneven, especially for women and adolescent girls. This is the case in sub-Saharan Africa, where females aged 15-24 accounted for 23 percent of new infections in 2016, compared to 11 percent for their male counterparts.

Sidibe says women and young girls face unique challenges, including cultural norms, child marriage and early pregnancies.

“It’s something which we need to address at not just a peripheral level, we need to deal with poverty, to deal with violence against women, to change the laws, to make sure we give them services,” he said.

In order to stop new HIV infections, other vulnerable populations also need a scaled-up response, including intravenous drug users, sex workers and men who have sex with men.

Working with at-risk groups and spreading awareness of the importance of condoms and single-needle use for drug addicts are all crucial to the fight against HIV.

Also read:HIV Infected Smokers More likely to die of lung cancer than AIDS, Reveals Indian-origin Researcher

Next month, thousands of experts, activists and people living with HIV/AIDS will meet in Amsterdam for the International AIDS conference. Special attention will be focused on the need to reach key populations, including in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, North Africa and the Middle East, where epidemics have grown. (IANS)

Next Story

Southern Hemisphere’s Worst Weather Disasters Ever, Claims UN On Cyclone Idai

"We have also called on South African companies to donate for humanitarian assistance and following this morning's assessment, we'll make a further announcement for how we'll assist going forward," he said Tuesday.

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Family members dig for their son, who got buried in the mud when Cyclone Idai struck in Chimanimani about 600 kilometers southeast of Harare, Zimbabwe, March 19, 2019. VOA

Cyclone Idai may be one of the worst weather disasters ever recorded in the southern hemisphere, U.N. experts say, with Mozambique suffering the brunt of the storm.

Idai tore across Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe late last week, leaving behind a trail of devastation, including more than 350 people killed, hundreds missing, and hundreds of thousands homeless.

Mozambique’s death toll exceeded 200 Tuesday, President Filipe Nyusi said, after saying earlier the final number of dead could top 1,000.

Officials say the cyclone created an “inland ocean” across the country.

Soldiers and paramedics carry injured people from a helicopter in Chimanimani, about 600 kilometers southeast of Harare, Zimbabwe, March, 19, 2019.
Soldiers and paramedics carry injured people from a helicopter in Chimanimani, about 600 kilometers southeast of Harare, Zimbabwe, March, 19, 2019. VOA

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies called the damage to the coastal city of Beira “massive and horrifying.” They estimate 90 percent of the city was destroyed.

Rescue workers were dropping food, fresh water, and blankets to flood victims stranded on roofs, treetops, and any high piece of land. Airdrops are the only way to help most people in Beria, where roads are under water and communications gone.

Mozambique-based UNICEF spokesman Daniel Timme told VOA via Skype Tuesday officials are still getting details on the impact of the storm.

“At the moment, we still don’t have the full picture of the situation, but we agree with the assessment of the government that the disaster is of a dimension which is much, much bigger than we thought in the beginning,” he said. “This is due to the fact that information was coming in very slowly, because the city of Beira had been cut off of all communication lines and still is, and has also been cut off physically because the roads to Beira are destroyed.”

FILE - Drone footage shows destruction after Cyclone Idai in the settlement of Praia Nova, which sits on the edge of Beira, Mozambique, March 18, 2019.
Drone footage shows destruction after Cyclone Idai in the settlement of Praia Nova, which sits on the edge of Beira, Mozambique, March 18, 2019. VOA

​Timme says UNICEF is appealing to international donors for more than $20 million to support its response in the three affected countries.

“We are at the same time actually preparing to supply people with the most urgent things. What is very important in such situations is the supply of safe drinking water, so we will be supplying water purification pills.”

South Africa sent a military force to Mozambique to help with the rescue and recovery. International relations spokesman, Ndivhuwo Mabaya, tells VOA South Africa will try to do more.

“We have also called on South African companies to donate for humanitarian assistance and following this morning’s assessment, we’ll make a further announcement for how we’ll assist going forward,” he said Tuesday.

In Zimbabwe, the death toll stood at 98 Tuesday. One local government official says bodies from Zambia have been flowing on the river into neighboring Mozambique.

Also Read: “It Is A More Rugged Surface Than We Predicted,” NASA’s Plan to Scoop Up Dirt from Asteroid Hits Complication

Malawi’s government put the death toll in that country at 56 with nearly 600 people suffering from storm-related injuries.

The European Union announced Tuesday it is sending an initial $4 million in aid to the three devastated countries. Britain has also pledged a separate aid package and the U.S. embassy in Zimbabwe said it is “mobilizing to provide support,” without giving any details. (VOA)