A Cambodian doctor offers Anti Retro Viral (ARV) drugs to a woman (left) who is living with HIV. File photo/ AFP
HIV-related deaths last year fell to around 770,000 — some 33 per cent lower than in 2010 — the United Nations said on Tuesday, but warned that global efforts to eradicate the disease were stalling as funding dries up.
An estimated 37.9 million people now live with HIV — a record 23.3 million of those have access to some antiretroviral therapy (ART), UNAIDS said in its annual report.
Highlighting the enormous progress made since the height of the AIDS epidemic in the mid-1990s, the report showed that the number people dying from the disease fell from 800,000 in 2017 to 770,000 last year.
The figure was down by more than a third from 2010, when there were 1.2 million AIDS-related deaths.
But it also exposed weaknesses in the world's fight against AIDS.
While AIDS-related deaths in Africa, the continent most affected by the epidemic, have plummeted this decade, Eastern Europe has seen the death toll rise 5 per cent and the Middle East and North Africa 9 per cent.
“We urgently need increased political leadership to end AIDS. Ending AIDS is possible if we focus on people not diseases... and take a human rights-based approach to reaching people most affected by HIV.
Year-on-year, those same regions saw a 29-per cent and 10-per cent rise in new infections, respectively.
“We urgently need increased political leadership to end AIDS,” said Gunilla Carlsson, UNAIDS executive director.
“Ending AIDS is possible if we focus on people not diseases... and take a human rights-based approach to reaching people most affected by HIV.”
Decades of research have yet to yield a cure or vaccine for the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), which has infected almost 80 million people and killed more than 35 million since the early 1980s.
The UN said that more than half of new HIV infections globally come from “key populations” — intravenous drug users, gay men, transgender people, sex workers and prisoners.
Despite this, the report said that under 50 per cent of these at-risk populations were reached by HIV prevention services in more than half of countries.
Another vulnerable group is children, with more than 160,000 new HIV infections last year.
That is 41 per cent lower than in 2010, but far off the mark countries set themselves of no more than 40,000 new cases worldwide each year by 2018.
There remains a pronounced disparity in new infection rates among young men and women, with young women 60 per cent more likely to pick up HIV than young men of the same age.
The report also warned that a lack of political will coupled with decreasing finance risked undermining the progress made so far.
Last year $19 billion (17 billion euros) was made available for AIDS response, more than $7 billion short of the estimated $26.2 billion needed by 2020.
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Many experts say the effort is overdue, given military advances in China during the past two decades as America focused on counter-terrorism operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and elsewhere.
America's military presence in Iraq has become a hot-button issue in the country since a US drone strike killed Iranian general Qasem Soleimani and Iraqi commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis on January 3 outside Baghdad's international airport.