UNITED NATIONS, New York — New data released by UNAIDS, the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS, show that prevention programmes specifically targeting youth appear to be behind the decline in HIV prevalence in key countries.
In its yearly AIDS update, released today, the Geneva-based organization downgraded last year’s global HIV prevalence by more than 6 million, from 39.5 million in 2006 to 33.2 million today. The numbers of those dying from the disease have also been downgraded—from 3.2 million in 2006 to 2.1 million today.
Most of the decline can be attributed to new and more accurate data collection and to HIV-positive people living longer because more and more are able to access life-saving anti-retroviral therapy. UNAIDS estimates that in at least nine high-prevalence countries, prevention activities and condom use, coupled with a reduction in the number of sexual partners, appears to have played a significant role in a drop in the number of new HIV infections.
Steve Kraus, HIV/AIDS Branch Chief for UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, says the new numbers show that investments in prevention programmes are clearly working. “This new report of UNAIDS communicates what we have known for many years—namely, prevention works. Young people, when provided with accurate and comprehensive information, education and services postpone sexual debut, reduce the number of sex partners, and ensure the use of condoms.”
So far, the new data also suggest that HIV transmission among young people is declining in nine countries. These are: Botswana, Cameroon, Chad, Kenya, Haiti, Malawi, Togo, Zambia and Zimbabwe. These trends, combined with evidence of significant declines in HIV prevalence among young pregnant women in urban and rural areas from five countries (Botswana, Cote d’Ivoire, Kenya, Malawi and Zimbabwe) indicate that HIV prevention efforts are having a significant impact in some of the worst effected countries.
“We are seeing a return on investments made in the past several years,” says Kraus. “We need to continue these investments, knowing that universal access to sexual and reproductive health allows countries and communities to scale up HIV prevention services and help make the money work.”
Despite good news, HIV continues to be the leading cause of death in sub-Saharan Africa, with women disproportionately affected at 61 per cent. Every day 6,800 people are newly infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. In Europe, Russia and the Ukraine continue to lead the continent in the number of new HIV infections while Haiti and the Dominican Republic are both home to the highest numbers of people living with HIV in the Western Hemisphere.
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