No fewer than 78 million people are currently living with HIV, while 35 million people had died of AIDS since the emergence of the scourge 35 years ago, UNAIDS has said.
Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of UNAIDS and UN Under-Secretary-General, disclosed this in his message to the 2016 World AIDS Day observed on Thursday.
“Today, we commemorate World AIDS Day (WAD) – we stand in solidarity with the 78 million people who have become infected with HIV.
“We also remember the 35 million who have died from AIDS-related illnesses since the first cases of HIV were reported,” he said.
The UNAIDS executive director said the world was committed to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030 as part of the Sustainable Development Goals.
According to him, countries are getting on the fast-track as more than 18 million people are on life-saving HIV treatment.
He added that countries are on track to virtually eliminate HIV transmission from mother to child.
The UN official, however, raised the alarm that while the world is winning the war against the AIDS epidemic, it is not seeing progress everywhere.
He regretted that number of new HIV infections is not declining among adults, with young women particularly at risk of becoming infected with HIV.
“We know that for girls in sub-Saharan Africa, the transition to adulthood is a particularly dangerous time.
“Young women are facing a triple threat; a high risk of HIV infection, low rates of HIV testing and poor adherence to HIV treatment.
“Co-infections of people living with HIV, such as tuberculosis (TB), cervical cancer and hepatitis C, are at risk of putting the 2020 target of fewer than 500 000 AIDS-related deaths out of reach.
“TB caused about a third of AIDS-related deaths in 2015, while women living with HIV are at four to five times greater risk of developing cervical cancer.
“Taking AIDS out of isolation remains an imperative if the world is to reach the 2020 target”, he said.
Sidibé said “with access to treatment, people living with HIV are living longer, investing in treatment is paying off”.
“But people older than 50 who are living with HIV, including people who are on treatment, are at increased risk of developing age-associated non-communicable diseases, affecting HIV disease progression.
“AIDS is not over, but it can be if we tailor the response to individual needs at particular times in life.
“Whatever our individual situation may be, we all need access to the tools to protect us from HIV and to access anti-retroviral medicines , should we need them,” he said.
According to the UNAIDS executive director, a life-cycle approach to HIV that finds solutions for everyone at every stage of life can address the complexities of HIV.
He noted that risks and challenges change as people go through life, highlighting the need to adapt HIV prevention and treatment strategies from birth to old age.
Sidibé expressed the hope that the target by the UN to end the AIDS scourge by 2030 was on course.
“The success we have achieved so far gives us hope for the future, but as we look ahead we must remember not to be complacent. We cannot stop now.
“This is the time to move forward together to ensure that all children start their lives free from HIV.
“This is also time to ensure that young people and adults grow up and stay free from HIV and that treatment becomes more accessible so that everyone stays AIDS-free.”