Are we finally stopping the spread of AIDS? According to a report released by the United Nations on Monday the spread of AIDS has slowed. Both the rates of HIV infections and death from AIDS have declined. Also good news is that the number of people seeking treatment is going up.
In a press release from UNAIDS, the numbers are showing a 52% reduction in new infections among children and a 33% reduction in adults and children combined since 2001. While there are still an estimated 35.3 million people with HIV it does appear that that the rate AIDs is spreading has at least slowed down. UNAIDS has set targets for countries for “universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support and to halt and reverse the spread of HIV.” They hope to achieve these goals by 2015.
There are also reports today that Swaziland, the country with the highest rates of HIV in the world has slowed down the rate of new infections. Health workers there have credited this decrease to increased funding which has allowed for more people to be treated. Right now it is estimated that a quarter of the population is infected with HIV. According to Elias Pavlopoulos, the head of Swaziland Mission “We are seeing a stabilization phase of the epidemic and seeing the first signs of a reduction on new HIV infections.”
The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is what causes AIDS and it is transmitted by blood, semen or breast milk. Sharing needles for intravenous drug use is a common way for the disease to be transmitted as well. According to most sources, AIDS was first identified in June of 1981 when the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published its weekly “Morbidly and Mortality Weekly Report” which noticed rare lung infections as well as some other infections in five young men. By the end of the year there were 270 cases reported and 120 deaths.
While it isn’t known for sure, it is believed that HIV originated in Africa where humans are thought to have caught it from chimpanzees which carry a similar virus. It is likely humans caught this from the blood of these animals after they were hunted. While it was first called a “gay disease” it was later learned that it was spread in other ways besides gay sex. Because it was thought of as a gay disease there were many misconceptions and discrimination against the gay community in the early days of AIDS research.
According to the UNAIDS report, one of the reasons for the declining numbers is that more people in poorer and middle-income countries have better access to medication to control the disease. Currently the disease can be helped by antiretroviral treatment, a cocktail of drugs which seems to at least keep it from getting worse in many patients. There has also been more education on ways to stop the spread of AIDs in these same countries.
Will a cure ever be found for AIDS? It is hard to say but the numbers released by UNAIDS are showing that progress is being made and that the spread of AIDS has slowed. As the number of new cases declines more resources can be allocated for research and development of new treatments. One other positive note is that with all the research on HIV treatments, many new drugs have been found to treat other diseases as well.
Written by: Paul Roy