Millions of individuals gain access to HIV treatment, but there are significant gaps that need to be addressed to end the epidemic.
A new report published by UNAIDS noted significant progress in treating HIV, with nearly 21 million individuals starting antiretroviral therapy (ART).
In 2000, only 685,000 HIV-positive patients had access to ART, but that number skyrocketed to 20.9 million in June 2017, according to the report.
The authors said that the significant progress in treating HIV was the result of patients taking charge of their health and the financial commitment from governments.
“Many people do not remember that in 2000 there were only 90 people in South Africa on treatment,” said Michel Sidibé, executive director of UNAIDS. “Today, South Africa has the biggest life-saving treatment programme [sic] in the world, with more than 4 million people on treatment. This is the kind of acceleration we need to encourage, sustain and replicate.”
The authors said the uptick in patients administered ART correlates to more patients surviving the infection and preventing HIV transmission.
The report also showed that the increased access to ART reduced the occurrence of mother-to-child HIV transmission. Between 2010 and 2016, HIV infections among children dropped 56% in eastern and Southern Africa, according to the study.
Despite the positive findings, the authors note that there are still 17.1 million HIV-positive individuals who must gain access to ART, including 1.2 million children. Providing access to preventive therapies and ART is crucial to the health of these patients, according to the study.
The authors found that 1.8 million individuals were infected with HIV, which is a 39% decrease from the rate in the 1990s.
While the overall new infection rate appears to be declining, the authors discovered that HIV infections are booming in countries that have not targeted areas and populations most affected by the infection. For example, new HIV infections increased 60% since 2010 in eastern Europe and central Asia.
The authors said these findings highlight the importance of the right to health, which is defined as the right of all individuals to enjoy the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, according to Article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The right to health including the prevention of diseases, making decisions about health, and to be treated without discrimination.
However, the report indicated that areas in which the right to health is compromised may be linked to HIV spread. Additionally, HIV-positive patients who are marginalized by society still have significant challenges in accessing necessary health care services.
The authors found that HIV infections among young women aged 15 to 24 years increased 67%. Previous studies have shown that a large majority of newly-infected young women contracted the infection from older men, which highlights concerns about education, according to the authors.
Other studies have also shown that men are a difficult population to reach with HIV testing and treatment, with men in sub-Saharan Africa 18% less likely to receive treatment.
The authors concluded that these findings underscore the challenges faced in ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic by 2030, in accordance with the 2016 United Nations Political Declaration on Ending AIDS.