Whenever we read about the HIV/AIDS epidemic we expect to see more bad news. We read about how it ravages whole countries, how Christian extremists think it is a judgment from God and how it’s mutating into ever more virulent strains.
To some extent, the latest UNAIDS worldwide epidemic update continues that trend. The report documents an increase in the overall number of people living with HIV, and it points out that the epidemic has orphaned 14 million children.
However, if you look behind such headline figures, a more encouraging picture emerges.
The most promising aspect is the decreasing number of new HIV cases across the world. In 2008, there were 2.7 million new cases of HIV, as compared to the peak of 3.5 million in 1996.
Furthermore, in Sub-Saharan Africa, where 67% of people that are currently live with HIV are situated, the number of people newly contracting HIV is slowly decreasing.
Efforts to increase the provision of drugs to those in need have had a significant effect. When drugs are made available to those with AIDS, survival rates typically jump from 4 to 50 months. In the past five years, the provision of these drugs has risen from 7% to 42%. This is the main reason that the overall numbers of people living with HIV has increased. A statistic that seems a cause for concern at first glance is actually representing a promising development.
However, the variety of drugs on offer do not just elongate life.
Those offered to pregnant women with HIV have also been made available on a larger scale. They reduce the chances of the baby contracting HIV from 30-35% to 1-2%.
This along with other preventative measures has decreased the numbers of people contracting HIV in total.
There are, however, still causes for concern. The report suggests that many key populations are not being provided the support and advice necessary. In Sub-Saharan Africa older heterosexual couples are most likely to spread HIV, yet there are few programmes focusing on this demographic.
In contrast to Sub-Saharan Africa, a significant cause for concern in the Western world is the continued rise in the number of homosexual men who contract HIV. In fact, the numbers of people newly diagnosed with HIV in the Western world are now increasing.
At least, however, in the Western world there are awareness programmes and antiretroviral drugs available on tap. In North Africa and the Middle East such drugs are only available to 14% of those with HIV.
It is to some extent assumed that the conservative sexual ethics in these countries allays grounds for worry. However, the 80% increase from 2001 to 2008 in the numbers of those dying from AIDS related diseases in the area suggests otherwise.
As such, the overall picture is mixed, but with grounds for optimism. Specific groups and areas need to be targeted more appropriately, but HIV/AIDS is being combated now more effectively than it ever has done. Despite all the media doom and gloom, further improvements are likely to continue.