World AIDS Day marked amid signs of progress
PARIS, Saturday (AFP) - Activists sought today to keep the battle against HIV in the public eye on World AIDS Day in the face of growing complacency amid progress in treating and slowing the spread of the disease.
Even the Miss World beauty pageant on the Chinese holiday island of Sanya was being enlisted to get out the message that the disease still kills some 6,000 people each day.
The December 1 event is traditionally a time of grim stocktaking as 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.
|Indian students carry placards during an HIV/AIDS awareness demonstration in Siliguri on the occaision of World AIDS Day. Across India World AIDS Day is being marked with awareness campaigns and health camps, as an estimated 2.5 million of the country's billion plus population are living with HIV/AIDS. AFP
But superficially, 2007 is a rare moment for celebration -- and this is what worries the experts.
Last month, the agency UNAIDS announced that the prevalence of HIV or AIDS -- the percentage of the world's population living with the HIV virus or the disease it causes -- peaked in the late 1990s.
UNAIDS also reduced its estimate of the number of people living with HIV or AIDS to 33 million from nearly 40 million after overhauling its methods for collecting data.
The tally of new infections has fallen, too, from 3.0 million in the late 1990s to an estimated 2.5 million in 2007.
Meanwhile, the agonising effort to bring antiretroviral 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 percent increase over the previous year, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria said Friday the number of people on antiretroviral (ARV) drugs it is funding has doubled in the past year to 1.4 million.
These figures may give the impression that a once-irrevocable death sentence is now a manageable chronic disease.
But experts and advocacy groups say this is a dangerous mirage.“Despite substantial progress against AIDS worldwide, we are still losing ground,” says James Shelton of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) in a commentary appearing on Saturday in The Lancet, a London medical journal. Despite progress in the drug rollout, treatment is still only available to about 10 percent of those in need, notes Shelton.
In developing countries, “the number of new infections continues to dwarf the numbers who start antiretroviral therapy in developing countries,” he says.
Indonesia -- which the UN said last month has the fastest growing HIV epidemic in Asia -- marked the day with the launch of its first national campaign to promote the use of condoms, which currently account for less than one percent of contraception use.