On Monday 1 December 2014, people around the world marked World AIDS Day, to help raise awareness of the disease.
And the good news is that the end of AIDS is in sight.
Since it was first recognised in 1981, AIDS has killed more than 36 million people worldwide, and there are currently more than 35 million people living with AIDS or HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. But the devastation of the HIV epidemic galvanised the world into action. So much so that the progress made since the agreement on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) was almost unimaginable 15 years ago.
Today, millions of people are on anti-retroviral treatment (ART), living longer and healthier lives with an infection that was once considered a death sentence. And the number of people newly infected with HIV over the last year was lower than the number of HIV-positive people who got access to the medicines they need.
Some more facts about AIDS:
There are around two million deaths from Aids each year, of which about 270,000 are children;
. Worldwide and estimated 35 million people live with HIV;
. Of the 35 million people living with HIV today, about half have never been tested and do not know their status;
. Over 350 million people are directly affected by HIV and AIDS;
. The main drivers of the spread of HIV globally are poverty, inequality, marginalisation and low access to HIV testing and treatment services;
. Just over 7,000 people were diagnosed HIV-positive in Ireland since the 1980s;
. In 2013, 344 people were newly diagnosed with HIV in Ireland – Roughly one per day;
And the good news:
. HIV is 100% preventable and HIV and AIDS related illnesses are increasingly treatable.
. Millions of lives have been saved in the past two decades, and more and more people are ‘living positively’ with HIV almost everywhere today.
. Once diagnosed, people with HIV can live healthy and fulfilling lives, if they are given access to appropriate treatment and life-saving drugs.
. AIDS-related deaths are declining, from a peak of 2.2 million in the mid 2000s to 1.7 million in 2011, with reductions every year.
. UNAIDS says that by June 2014, some 13.6 million people globally had access to AIDS drugs, a dramatic improvement on the 5 million who were getting treatment in 2010
. Nearly 10 million people in low and middle income countries are now accessing HIV treatment, compared to just 400,000 in the year 2000.
. Only 1% of babies born to mothers who have HIV are HIV positive because of treatments now available.
. The AIDS response is no longer financed by high-income countries alone: middle- and low- income countries are increasingly contributing to the response with domestic resources.
“We’ve passed the tipping point in the Aids fight at the global level, but not all countries are there yet, and the gains made can easily stall or unravel,” said Erin Hohlfelder, ONE’s director of global health policy.
However, a cure for HIV/AIDS remains elusive and, unlike other chronic illnesses, being diagnosed HIV-positive often brings with it a stigma that is equally debilitating.
World AIDS Day gives us all an opportunity to read up on the issue, increase our knowledge of HIV and bust common myths and misconceptions.
As Breda Gahan, Concern’s representative on the Dóchas HIV and AIDS Working Group said on 1 December:
“Closing the gap means empowering and enabling all people, everywhere, to access the services they need:
. By closing the HIV testing gap, the 19 million people who are unaware of their HIV-positive status can begin to get support.
. By closing the treatment gap, all 35 million people living with HIV will have access to life-saving medicine.
. By closing the gap in access to medicines for children, all children living with HIV will be able to access treatment, not just the 24% who have access today.
. By closing the access gap, all people can be included as part of the solution.
HIV = Hope Is Vital.”