Believe it or not, the headline above represents a sign of progress. According to a report from the UN, “for the first time the scales have tipped: more than half of all people living with HIV (53 percent) now have access to HIV treatment and AIDS-related deaths have almost halved since 2005.” That’s 19.5 million treated of the infected 36.7 million, and according to the UN’s projection, 30 million should be on treatment by 2020.
Additionally, AIDS-related deaths were almost halved in the period from 2005 to 2016—they fell from 1.9 million to 1 million.
That’s great. Less great is the fact that 47 percent of people living with HIV are not being treated—there’s a huge access-slash-stigma problem for black men who have sex with men in the Deep South, for example. On a related note, drug prices are astronomical.
And, as ABC News notes:
Experts applauded the progress, but questioned if the billions spent in the past two decades should have brought more impressive results. The U.N. report was released in Paris where an AIDS meeting begins this weekend.
“When you think about the money that’s been spent on AIDS, it could have been better,” said Sophie Harman, a senior lecturer in global health politics at Queen Mary University in London.
Part of this is because for the vast majority of the past 20 years, the emphasis on condom usage by just about anyone who had anything to say publicly about the epidemic did not align with actual sexual taste and practice (a lot of people really hate condoms!). With antiretroviral drugs now available (to those who can access them) for people both HIV negative (as PrEP) and positive (as TasP or treatment as prevention), though, there is reason for hope.
Yet given that we are living in 2017, there is also ample reason for despair. Again from ABC:
“The real test will come in five to 10 years once the funding goes down,” Harman said, warning that some countries might not be able to sustain the U.N.-funded AIDS programs on their own.
The Trump administration has proposed a 31 percent cut in contributions to the U.N. starting in October.
In the U.S., according to the UN, 19.5 million people were on meds in 2016, compared to 17.1 million in 2015. It’s getting better, but when it comes to HIV, all “good news” must be tempered with the reality that there’s so, so far to go in ending this epidemic.