Home >Politics >News >Battlelines shift, but war against AIDS far from won

Paris: This year’s World AIDS Day sees health watchdogs battling against complacency, warning that AIDS continues to kill 6,000 people each day, even if the estimated toll of infections has fallen and life-saving drugs are being rolled out.

The 1December event is traditionally a time of grim stocktaking. AIDS campaigners sound the alarm over the disease’s rampage through Africa, the threat it poses to Asia and former Soviet republics and the risks to vulnerable communities such as sex workers, drug users and gay men.

Campaigners angry at unmet promises and targets

Superficially, 2007 is a rare moment for celebration and this is what worries experts. UNAIDS reduced its estimate of the number of people living with HIV or AIDS, from 39.5 million in 2007 after 33.2 million in 2006. It also overhauled its methods for collecting data . The tally of new infections thereafter have fallen from 3.0 million in the late 1990s to an estimated 2.5 million in 2007. However, there is no time to be complacent.

An agonizing effort to bring antiretroviral (ART) drugs to Africa, where more than two-thirds of the people with HIV/AIDS live, is now bearing fruit. At the end of 2006, more than two million people were getting the vital pills, a 54% increase over the previous year, according to WHO.

Falling estimates of infection, a dangerous mirage

Put together, these figures may give the impression, for some, that a once-irrevocable death sentence is now a manageable chronic disease. But experts and advocacy groups say that this is a dangerous mirage. “Despite substantial progress against AIDS worldwide, we continue to lose ground," said James Shelton of USAID in The Lancet last week.

Despite progress in the drug rollout, treatment is available to about 10% of those in need, he noted, saying that in developing countries, number of new infections dwarfs numbers who start ART in developing countries.

“We must not be complacent about the AIDS crisis," Paul Zeitz, executive director of the Global AIDS Alliance, said. “There is a huge unmet need for basic HIV/AIDS services, including for orphaned children."

The revised toll “does not change the fact that only a tiny fraction of HIV-positive pregnant women are getting the treatment they need, to avoid passing the virus to their newborns and to stay alive to raise them."

Funding issues predominant

One of the biggest areas of concern is money. The war against AIDS “continues to be undermined by a global resource gap," says Alvaro Bermejo, executive director, International HIV/AIDS Alliance.

According to the UN, there is currently an $8 billion shortfall in resources to fight AIDS, including for basic prevention, treatment and care for orphaned children. To meet G8 goal of providing universal access to ARV by 2010, $42 billion will be needed. So far, only 15.4 billion is in the kitty. Looking at how the battle against AIDS will unfold in the coming years, experts predict a combat that will increasingly be less monolithic.

“In the future it is likely that there will be two different kinds of epidemics - a generalized one centered in sub-Saharan Africa and a concentrated one in specific high-risk groups worldwide," The Lancet quoted Friday in an editorial.

People angry over unfulfilled promises: Results of an ‘attitude’ survey

A new global survey measuring attitudes toward the AIDS epidemic revealed that 52% people are “frustrated" or “angry" with their governments for not honouring a 2005 commitment to help those affected by HIV and AIDS.

Break the silence surrounding HIV/AIDS

Nearly one-third of the 3,500 people surveyed in the seven wealthiest nations said they know little or nothing about the epidemic and 25% felt the media “greatly exaggerated" the threat of AIDS.

“For those millions of people, HIV is simply not real," said Richard E. Sterns, president, World Vision USA, a group that conducted the survey with the polling firm Ipsos. “It’s not personal, it is somebody else’s problem and somebody’s else’s disease," is the common perception.

“Leaders must put a face on the pandemic because for people to take action, AIDS must affect them in a personal way," Sterns told a news conference. The first-ever attitude survey, it indicated that people are willing to do more to help alleviate the crisis, but that lack of education and awareness often places it in the shadows.

The survey was randomly polled amongst 400 people in 7 of the world’s wealthiest nations: Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Britain and Japan and 1,000 in U.S over phone.

Key Findings

* Canada had the highest level of empathy toward those affected by the AIDS crisis, while Japan had the lowest

* 50% Americans were willing to pay more taxes if the money indeed went to AIDS treatment, research and care

World leaders commit to increasing budgets on AIDS prevention and treatment

* 75-80% felt their governments were not doing enough and that Americans “do care" about AIDS at a human level. They were grateful that President Bush and Congress had pledged $15 billion in 2004 under President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, and for Bush’s desire to double it to $30 billion

*90% agreed there is a moral obligation to respond to the AIDS crisis

* 80% felt their governments should do more to assist children orphaned by AIDS and related illnesses (15 million children lost a parent to AIDS) and were likely to become eco-boom of the AIDS pandemic as they come of age and may become infected themselves and continue the cycle in a downward way

* Indigenous communities around the world have been hit by rising HIV/AIDS; tribal people die because their land is invaded and taken and because they succumb to outside diseases like HIV/AIDS they never knew before (no grasp of the risks of unprotected sex; no access to condoms; no appropriate treatment)

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