Monthly Archives: November 2015

UN health agency urges expanding antiretroviral therapy to all people living with HIV

30 November 2015 – Expanding antiretroviral therapy to all people living with HIV is the key to ending the AIDS epidemic within a generation, the World Health Organization announced on the eve of World AIDS Day, presenting new “treat all” recommendations to enable countries to expand treatment rapidly and efficiently.

“Everyone, everywhere should have access to treatment,” Simon Bland, Director of the Joint UN Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS) Office in New York, told reporters at a press briefing at UN Headquarters today.

Meanwhile, UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé launched a global initiative in Libreville, Gabon, over the weekend that encourages youths to get tested for HIV, calling on young people worldwide to join the movement and get involved in ending the AIDS epidemic.

UNAIDS estimates that 17.1 million of the 36.9 million people living with HIV worldwide do not know they have the virus. Getting tested is a crucial first step for people living with HIV to access life-saving antiretroviral therapy.

Meanwhile, WHO said it is presenting the “treat all” recommendations at a major international AIDS conference taking place this week in Harare, Zimbabwe.

According to the UN health agency, trial results published earlier this year have confirmed that people living with HIV who begin antiretroviral therapy soon after acquiring the virus – before the virus has weakened their immune systems – are more likely to stay healthy and less likely to transmit the virus to their partners. Those findings led WHO in September to recommend that everyone living with HIV be offered treatment.

The recommendations include using innovative testing strategies to help more people learn they are HIV positive; moving testing and treatment services closer to where people live; starting treatment faster among people who are at advanced stages of HIV infection when they are diagnosed; and reducing the frequency of clinic visits recommended for people who are stable, according to WHO.

“WHO applauds governments, civil society, and organizations that have made availability of life-saving antiretroviral therapy possible in the most trying circumstances. The new recommendation to expand to all people living with HIV is a call to further step up the pace,” said Dr. Winnie Mpanju-Shumbusho, WHO Assistant Director General for HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, Malaria and Neglected Tropical Diseases.

According to the agency, “the world is poised to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030 – provided it can accelerate the pace of progress achieved globally over the past 15 years.”

Since 2000, an estimated 7.8 million lives have been saved, fewer people are acquiring HIV, and projections of an end to the epidemic by 2030 – a goal once considered unattainable by many experts – are now realistic, according to the WHO report, Global Health Sector Response to HIV 2000-2015.

WHO Director-General, Dr. Margaret Chan said “the Millennium Development Goal of reversing the HIV epidemic was reached ahead of the 2015 deadline – an incredible achievement that testifies to the power of national action and international solidarity.”

Over the last 15 years, scale-up of antiretroviral therapy (ART) has been most dramatic in the WHO African Region where now more than 11 million people are receiving HIV treatment, up from 11,000 at the turn of the century, WHO said, adding that “People living with HIV in Africa are now more likely to receive treatment than people living in most other parts of the world.”

Reducing the number of new HIV infections remains a major focus for the vision of ending AIDS.

WHO said over the last five years in Africa some 10 million men have undergone voluntary medical circumcision, a procedure that reduces their risk of acquiring HIV by 60 per cent.

And the same drugs that keep people living with HIV from becoming sick also prevent transmission of the virus from pregnant women to their infants. Among the 22 countries that account for 90 per cent of new HIV infections, 8 have reduced new infections among children by more than 50 per cent since 2009, based on 2013 data, and another 4 are close to that mark.

“The sense of urgency that was the norm during the disease’s most-destructive years must not be allowed to abate,” WHO’s Dr Mpanju-Shumbusho said. “HIV remains a major health challenge.”


Dec 1, 2015

AIDS continues to be a major global health and development challenge. Since its emergence as one of the most brutal and debilitating diseases in history, it has already claimed the lives of more than 34 million people.

Today, 36.9 million people are living with HIV, with 1.2 million deaths from AIDS-related illnesses and two million new HIV infections occurring in 2014 alone. The devastation wrought by AIDS-related illnesses is very real, especially in sub-Saharan Africa where the majority of new HIV infections occur.

The recently adopted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) commit us to accelerate progress towards ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030. Delivering on this ambition will require dramatically expanding and improving access to HIV treatment, reducing the number of new HIV infections, and eliminating HIV-related discrimination.

At the same time, the SDGs also provide an opportunity to address HIV, health, and development in a more inclusive and integrated manner which leaves no one behind. Ending AIDS as a public health threat will require reducing inequalities and exclusion, empowering women and girls, and creating more inclusive and peaceful societies.

There is reason to feel encouraged on this World AIDS Day. The world has made enormous progress – new HIV infections have fallen by 35% since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths have dropped by 42% since their peak in 2004. Today, 15.8 million people are accessing life-saving antiretroviral therapy, 2.2 million of whom are supported through the UNDP-Global Fund partnership.

Yet, there are significant challenges ahead. The sense of urgency and commitment to human rights which drove the early days of the response must be harnessed. AIDS is a disease of inequality and socially marginalized communities like men who have sex with men, sex workers, people who inject drugs and transgender people, and these groups are disproportionately affected. It is critical to tackle discrimination and remove punitive laws to enable universal access to health and social services.

On this World AIDS Day, the world stands at a critical juncture. With the end of AIDS within our reach, we have a window of opportunity before us. We must accelerate the pace on the last mile of the AIDS response.

If we maintain the status quo, HIV will continue to outpace the response, and the goal of ending AIDS as a public health threat by 2030 will not be reached. Alternatively, if defeating HIV remains a top priority, and if HIV responses and policies are approached in a holistic, non-discriminatory manner, where marginalized groups are placed at the forefront of our efforts, we can reach our goal.

That really would really be cause for celebration.

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World AIDS Day: record drop in cost of HIV treatment

Nov 30, 2015

Despite tremendous progress over the last two decades, AIDS continues to be a devastating disease affecting millions of people around the world, with 36.9 million people currently living with HIV.

Yet on the occasion of this World AIDS Day, there is cause for celebration. Through the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)-Global Fund partnership, the cost of the HIV medicines has dropped to an unprecedented US$100 per person per year in Equatorial Guinea, Haiti, Mali, South Sudan, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

“This is an extraordinary feat that will help us to save more lives, yet we cannot lose sight of the significant challenges that remain,” said Mandeep Dhaliwal, Director of UNDP’s HIV, Health and Development Group. “If we want to end AIDS as a public health threat by 2030, we need to bolster our efforts to ensure that anyone with HIV anywhere in the world has access to the right treatment at an affordable cost,” said Dhaliwal, adding that a range of actions by UNDP have led to improved procurement planning with countries and manufacturers, discounts on large volumes, pooled orders, and reductions in transport and handling costs.

Fifteen years ago, antiretroviral therapy cost more than US$10,000 per patient per year. Within a year this exorbitant price plummeted to US$350 per year when generic manufacturers began to offer treatment. Since then, owing to competition among quality-assured generic manufacturers, the cost of treatment continued to fall to around US$150 per patient per year. These dramatic price reductions has made it possible to provide HIV treatment to 15.8 million people, up from a mere 700,000 people in 2000.

This recent price reduction to below US$100 per patient per year achieved by UNDP applies to the one-pill combination of three HIV medicines, known as TLE (Tenofovir, Lamivudine and Efavirenz), a regimen recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) and most widely-used first-line antiretroviral therapy.

These savings free up funds for countries to put more people on treatment and keep more people alive. An extra US$25 million can now be used to put an additional 250,000 people on life-saving HIV treatment. Putting additional people on treatment contributes to curbing new infections and realizing the global goal of ending AIDS as a public health threat by 2030.

In 2014 alone, there were 1.2 million deaths from AIDS-related illnesses and two million new HIV infections. UNDP currently supports the implementation of HIV grants financed by the Global Fund in 19 countries. Through these programmes, 2.2 million people living with HIV currently receive life-saving antiretroviral therapy.

Some 3.2 billion people now online, but number still falls short of Internet target – UN report

30 November 2015 – Some 3.2 billion people are now online, representing 43.4 per cent of the global population, but the number still falls significantly short of reaching the anticipated goal of 60 per cent by 2020, according to a United Nations report released today.

While the proportion of households projected to have Internet access in 2020 will reach 56 per cent, exceeding the ‘Connect 2020’ target of 55 per cent, only 53 per cent of the global population will be online in 2020, the report found, ranking the Republic of Korea first in the information and communication technology (ICT) 2015 Development Index (IDI).

Africa ranks worst, with 29 of 37 countries in the IDI’s bottom quarter, and 11 figuring last out of 167, illustrating the importance of addressing the digital divide between the continent and other regions, according to the UN International Telecommunications Union (ITU) flagship annual Measuring the Information Society Report.

Although the 2020 goal is not on track to be achieved, the report, widely recognized as the repository of the world’s most reliable and impartial global data and analysis on ICT development, notes that all 167 countries improved their IDI values between 2010 and 2015 – meaning that levels of ICT access, use and skills continue to improve worldwide.

It also showed that almost 7.1 billion people, over 95 per cent of the global population, are now covered by a mobile-cellular signal.

“ICTs will be essential in meeting each and every one of the 17 newly-agreed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and this report plays an important role in the SDG process,” ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao said, referring to the ambitious economic, social and environmental targets that the UN has set for the year 2030.

“Without measurement and reporting, we cannot track the progress being made, and this is why ITU gathers data and publishes this important report each year.”

ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau Director Brahima Sanou called progress encouraging in many areas. “But more needs to be done – especially in the world’s poorest and remotest regions, where ICTs can arguably make the biggest difference, and help bring people everywhere out of extreme poverty,” he added.

By the end of this year, 46 per cent of households globally will have Internet access at home, up from 44 per cent last year and just 30 per cent in 2010. In the developed world, 81.3 per cent of households now have home Internet access, compared to 34.1 per cent in the developing world, and just 6.7 per cent in the 48 UN-designated least developed countries (LDCs).

Latest data show that growth in Internet use has slowed down, however, posting 6.9 per cent growth in 2015, after 7.4 per cent in 2014. Nonetheless, the number of Internet users in developing countries has almost doubled in the past five years, with two thirds of all people online now living in the developing world.

Fastest growth continues to be seen in mobile broadband, with the number of mobile-broadband subscriptions worldwide having grown more than four-fold in five years, from 800 million in 2010 to an estimated 3.5 billion now. The number of fixed-broadband subscriptions has risen much more slowly, to an estimated 800 million today.

“More action will also be needed to ensure that targets for growth and inclusiveness are not missed in developing countries, and in particular in LDCs,” ITU stressed in a news release.

“The Connect 2020 Agenda aims to ensure that at least 50 per cent of households in developing countries and 15 per cent of households in LDCs have access by 2020, but ITU estimates that only 45 per cent of households in developing countries and 11 per cent of LDC households will have Internet access by that date.”

In 2015, Republic of Korea ranked at the top of the IDI, which measures countries according to their level of ICT access, use and skills, closely followed by Denmark and Iceland.

The IDI top 30 ranking includes countries from Europe and other high-income nations, including Australia, Bahrain, Barbados, Canada, Hong Kong (China), Japan, Macao (China), New Zealand, Singapore and the United States.

Almost half the world's households now online

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ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao addresses the 13th World Telecommunication/ICT Indicators Symposium (WTIS 2015) in Hiroshima, Japan. Photo: ITU/D. Woldu

By the end of this year, nearly half of the world’s households, 46 per cent, will be online, up from 30 per cent just five years ago.

That’s according to the annual Measuring the Information Society Report, from the world telecoms body, the ITU.

Matthew Wells reports.

A total of 3.2 billion people are now online according to the report, which is widely seen as the most reliable and impartial analysis on the state of global telecommunications development.

Although almost all of the world’s population is now covered by mobile-cellular service, the picture for online connectivity varies greatly, according to where you live, says the report.

Jaroslaw Ponder, ITU Coordinator for Europe, said that greater levels of access in the developing world in particular, were essential to meeting the newly-agreed Sustainable Development Goals.

“95 per cent of the world’s population is now covered by mobile cellular and signal, however, while 3G network coverage grew from 45 to 69% of world population between 2011-15, 3G networks remain absent from many rural areas in low-income countries, especially in Africa.”

Korea ranks first in the body’s ICT Development Index, and the report notes that all of the 167 economies included in the index showed an improvement between 2010 and 2015, meaning that communications access and use continues to grow steadily across the world.

Matthew Wells, United Nations.

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