The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) said no fewer than 1.8 million people are newly infected by HIV, warning that HIV infections continue to rise.
Executive Director of UNAIDS, Dr Michel Sidibé, at the International AIDS Conference in the Netherlands, called on countries to boost prevention measures and continue facilitating access to treatment, according to UNAIDS statement.
It quoted Sidibé as saying: “UNAIDS is urging countries to take bold action to address the HIV prevention crisis.
“Around 1.8 million people became newly infected with HIV in 2017 and around 50 countries experienced a rise in new HIV infections as HIV prevention services are not being provided on an adequate scale or with sufficient intensity.
“Health is a human rights imperative and we are deeply concerned about the lack of political commitment and the failure to invest in proven HIV programmes, particularly for young people and key populations.
“If countries think they can treat their way out of their epidemics, they are dangerously mistaken”.
According to a new UNAIDS report, 47 per cent of new HIV infections globally affect key vulnerable populations, such as sex workers, and people who inject drugs.
He said while a combination of HIV prevention approaches could mitigate this – such as harm reduction, pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), better social care and condoms – many countries are unwilling to invest in approaches which they view as culturally or religiously inappropriate.
The UNAIDS chief added: “In 2017, around 6,500 women and girls were infected with HIV every week.
“Limited access to education, a lack of economic autonomy and a lack of decision-making power, including over their own health, expose them to intimate partner violence, limit their ability to practise safer sex and limit their ability to benefit from HIV and sexual and reproductive health services, making them more vulnerable to HIV infection”.
Sidibé said in some Southern African countries for example, where HIV prevalence could be as high as 70 per cent among sex workers, it was reported that condoms were often confiscated by the police.
“If countries don’t provide comprehensive sexuality education, condoms, harm reduction or pre-exposure prophylaxis for key populations, this will ultimately translate into more new HIV infections, higher future treatment costs and a higher burden for health-care budgets and systems,” Sidibé warned.
According to UNAIDS, women and youth need targeted approaches as they were often more vulnerable and, therefore, more at risk of exposure.
The UN agency said most countries have significantly scaled up their HIV treatment programmes, some to the extent of reaching 80 per cent of people living with HIV with antiretroviral therapy.
However, many are not being diagnosed and treated soon enough, allowing transmissions to occur before they start treatment or if treatment is interrupted, the UN agency regretted.
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