Will we keep the promise to end the AIDS epidemic?

The International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2012) in Washington DC this week is the 19th in count. All International AIDS conferences are important, hectic and full of event. But, many believe that AIDS 2012 is a historic event on the path to the end of the epidemic. The fact that AIDS conference has returned to the US in itself is of paramount importance. After a long gap of 22 years and through a process of US reforming its stand on HIV (allowing people living with HIV (PLHIV) to enter the country since 2010), the conference is back to their home turf. Most would agree that without US' roles in research and funding, the battle against HIV would not go further. However, when this US leadership comes across with a stronger sense of solidarity, opened borders and a sense that HIV is everyone’s problem including US, the momentum gains another level.

However US' policies to not allow sex workers and injecting drug users (IDUs) to enter the country drew global condemnation. A parallel conference of sex workers took place in Kolkata, India during AIDS 2012. Similarly IDUs convened another hub in Eastern Europe and Central Asian region. 

Washington DC, the host city of AIDS 2012, has been dealing with a severe AIDS crisis with prevalence rates between 4 and 7% within African American Communities. A bleak picture, comparable to high prevalence rates in the world. Symbolic importance of the event on Washington’s AIDS crisis will be huge.

Never before in the history of AIDS conferences, the end of the epidemic looked so probable, so near and so achievable – than it does now.  Significant advances are in the areas of preventing mother-to-child-transmitted infections, with an assurance and a major possibility that the same would be a history soon, remarkable progress on prevention such as the micro-bicides and global acceptance that treatment is the best prevention.  Steady investments in research science are likely to lead major breakthroughs. However, in sessions of AIDS 2012 such as 'Getting Real About Getting To The End of AIDS' it became clear that there is no costed strategy to reach the ambitious 'end'.

Funding has been a problem in the face of current economic crisis. The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (The Global Fund) had to put on hold new programmes until 2014. However, it seems that both at global level and at national levels in countries, there is a more committed effort to fund the HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment, care and research. About 50% of the global spending on HIV currently comes from the US. Other contributions and sources would be a major relief. The World Bank Chief in the opening of AIDS 2012 committed his support to Governments and organizations working on HIV/AIDS. Significant improvements are being seen in the context of national Governments investing on HIV/AIDS.

The prevalence rates have gone down by about 20% globally in the last 12 years.  In most parts of the world the epidemic is at a slow and steady decline except North Africa and Eastern Europe regions. The numbers of deaths have reduced steadily over years, and some 8.75 million are on Anti Retro Viral therapy. These are all positive signs but the progress is slower than expected. UNAIDS believes that this pace may take another 40 years to end the epidemic. Therefore, the progress will have to pace up.

31 years down the line, the AIDS epidemic has cumulatively impacted 65 million lives and has taken over 30 million lives. The loss has been huge, but it looks like that the global community is more determined than ever before on the road that goes to the end of the epidemic.  

Prakash Tyagi - CNS
(The author leads 'GRAVIS' and writes extensively on HIV related issues)

Published in:
Citizen News Service (CNS), India
Spy Ghana News, Accra, Ghana
Focus Ghana News, Accra, Ghana