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HIV infections level off at 'worrying' 2.5 mn a year: study

Paris, France | July 19, 2016, Tuesday @ 15:44 in World » AFRICA | By: Mariëtte Le Roux | Views: 3169
HIV infections level off at 'worrying' 2.5 mn a year: study

File Photo: A laboratory technician at the AIDS Research Center of the Treichville hospital in Abidjan works on blood samples of people living with HIV on September 13, 2013. (AFP PHOTO/ SIA KAMBOU)

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(AFP) - Some 2.5 million people are still becoming infected with HIV every year even as drugs have slashed the death rate and virus-carriers live longer than ever, a global AIDS study said Tuesday.

New infections have plateaued for the past 10 years after a steep dip from the peak rate of 3.3 million in 1997, said the authors of a comprehensive analysis in The Lancet HIV journal.

It was published to coincide with the International AIDS conference underway in Durban, South Africa to assess progress in stemming an outbreak that has killed more than 30 million people since the 1980s.

The report paints "a worrying picture of slow progress in reducing new HIV infections," according to lead author Haidong Wang from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington, Seattle.

This could be worsened by "stagnating" funding for HIV/AIDS programmes and medicines.

"Therefore, a massive scale-up of efforts from governments and international agencies will be required to meet the estimated $36 billion (33 billion euros) needed every year to realise the goal of ending AIDS by 2030," IHME director Christopher Murray said in a statement.

Over the past 15 years, countries have contributed $110 billion in "development assistance" for HIV/AIDS programmes.

Today, there are some 38.8 million people living with the AIDS-causing virus, a steady increase from 28 million in 2000 thanks to the advent in 1996 of life-prolonging antiretroviral therapy (ART).

Annual AIDS deaths have declined from a peak of 1.8 million in 2005 to 1.2 million in 2015.

There is no AIDS cure or vaccine.

ART cocktails suppress the virus, enabling people to live long lives, though the drugs are expensive and can have side effects.

- 'Dramatic change' required -

Use of antiretrovirals, for long the preserve of the rich, grew from 6.4 percent of infected men in 2005 to 38.6 percent ten years later, and from 3.3 percent to 42.4 percent for women over the same period, the study found.

Another factor that has helped cut the death rate was education and medicines to prevent infected women passing the virus onto their unborn children, said the report.

The study saw researchers collate HIV data recorded from 1980 to 2015 for 195 countries.

In spite of advances, most countries are still far from achieving the UNAIDS goal of ensuring that by 2020, 90 percent of infected people will know their status, and 90 percent of those will receive ART.

In 2015, 41 percent of HIV-infected people received ART, said the report.

The picture varied vastly between countries and regions.

In 2015, 1.8 million new HIV infections, some 75 percent, were in sub-Saharan Africa, followed by 212,500 (8.5 percent) in south Asia.

"The highest rates of infection were in southern Africa, with more than one percent of the population per year becoming infected in Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland," said the report.

In Europe, the highest rate of new infections was in Russia (57,340) and Ukraine (13,490).

"Global efforts have had less impact on the incidence of new infections than on HIV mortality," concluded the report.

"Ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030 will require a dramatic change in how HIV prevention is pursued."

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