The AIDS epidemic is one of the greatest challenges of our time. It is a global catastrophe that was responsible for the deaths of more than 2.1 million people in 2006. Today, more than 33 million people are living with HIV and tens of millions of children have been left orphaned. Every day, more than 6,800 people are newly infected with HIV: Every day more than 5,700 people will die because they had no access to lifesaving anti-retroviral treatment.
On World Aids Day, the European Commission called on all EU member states to strengthen HIV prevention efforts and to provide information, improve knowledge and raise awareness among young people.
Estonia, Ukraine, Russia and Portugal lead Europe when in comes to HIV infections, with 504 cases per million residents in Estonia, 288 cases per one million residents in Ukraine, 275 cases per one million residents in the Russian Federation and 205 per million in Portugal. In the EU, men who have sex with men are at greater risk of HIV infection than most heterosexuals, and in the former Soviet Union, injecting drug use remains the primary mode of transmission, with more than a quarter of new HIV diagnoses among young people and 41 percent among females.
In the absence of a vaccine or cure, prevention remains the best hope of reversing the AIDS epidemic. Yet supplies and services—and even basic information about how HIV is transmitted— necessary to reduce rates of infection remain out of reach for those most at risk. Less than one person in five who is at risk of HIV has access to prevention methods. Researchers estimate that only one in ten people living with HIV knows their status.
In the wealthier EU member states, HIV has gone from being a death sentence to an increasingly manageable chronic disease. In Sub-Saharan Africa however, AIDS continues to be the leading cause of death, with the percentage of women living with the disease at 61 per cent.
Intensifying Prevention – the only way to reverse the epidemic
New UNAIDS data shows that investments in prevention programmes appear to be working. Although most of the recent drop in numbers of people living with HIV can be attributable to improved data gathering, there is some evidence that behavioural change in nine countries has also had an impact. Globally, the percentage of people living with HIV appears to have levelled off.
Steve Kraus, UNFPA HIV/AIDS Branch Chief notes, “this new report of UNAIDS communicates what we have known for many years—namely, prevention works. Young people, when provided with accurate and comprehensive information, education and services postpone sexual debut, reduce the number of sex partners, and ensure the use of condoms.”
Protecting Women and Girls
When AIDS emerged in the 1980s, it mostly affected men. Today women account for nearly half of all people living with HIV worldwide. The feminization of the epidemic highlights the inequalities that shape human behaviour and that limit whatever options women and girls have to protect themselves. Simply being identified as HIV positive may result in discrimination, gender-based violence, unemployment, abandonment or the loss of other human rights and freedoms. Many women are very vulnerable to HIV even though they do not practise high-risk behaviour. In the most high prevalence regions, marriage itself is a risk factor.
World AIDS Day 2007: Taking the lead to stop AIDS
On World AIDS Day 2007, Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, Executive Director of UNFPA, recommitted to the position of UNFPA as a global leader when it comes to HIV prevention. In her message, she stressed the need for greater efforts to ensure universal access to prevention, treatment and care.
With more than three decades of programme experience addressing sensitive issues such as gender relations and sexuality in various socio-cultural settings, UNFPA is uniquely positioned to address many aspects of HIV prevention. Since most HIV infections are sexually transmitted, the organization's focus on sexual and reproductive health provides a logical entry point for the provision of information and services. Interventions can be introduced within the context of youth education, family planning, maternal health or management of sexually transmitted infections. UNFPA is also a leader in sexual health education targeting adolescents and youth, both in and out of school, and is the lead agency within UNAIDS on condom programming.
At the policy level, UNFPA advises governments on issues relating to reproductive health. A strong country presence and a large network of government and nongovernmental partners supports the work of UNFPA on the ground. UNFPA also brings a unique understanding of the multisectoral nature of the epidemic at country, regional and global levels. The fund is committed to harmonizing and coordinating prevention activities with its UN partners so that assistance can be delivered effectively and efficiently.