According to a new report presented at the International AIDS Conference in Montreal, Canada, the global HIV response has stalled as resources dwindle due to COVID-19 and other crises.
The number of new HIV infections worldwide declined by just 3.6% between 2020 and 2021, according to the report, titled “At Risk”, the smallest annual drop since 2017.
Last year, there were about 1.5 million new infections, more than a million more than global targets.
“These data show that the global AIDS response is in grave danger. If we do not make rapid progress, then we will lose ground,” UNAIDS Executive Director Winnie Byanyima said in a press statement.
The number of new infections has increased in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, the Middle East, North Africa and Latin America, in line with trends over several years.
The Asia-Pacific region saw slight growth despite previous declines.
The bright spots were West and Central Africa (the latter mostly driven by Nigeria) and the Caribbean.
“COVID-19 and other instabilities have disrupted health services in many parts of the world, with millions of students out of school, increasing their vulnerability to HIV,” the report says.
In 2021, 38.4 million people worldwide were living with HIV, with 650,000 people dying from AIDS-related illnesses.
UNAIDS estimates that an additional US$29 billion (AU$41 billion) is needed to successfully tackle the HIV epidemic in low- and middle-income countries and ultimately end the virus as a global public health threat.
“It seems that many world leaders have forgotten about HIV,” said Adib Kamarulzaman, president of the International AIDS Society, the world’s largest association of HIV/AIDS specialists.
“We risk losing our way in efforts to end the global HIV epidemic.”
Young women and adolescent girls were disproportionately affected, with a new infection occurring every two minutes in this population.
Sub-Saharan Africa still accounts for the majority of new infections — 59 percent in 2021 — but that share is declining as the decline in new cases in the rest of the world slows.
Seventy percent of cases worldwide were among key populations: sex workers and their clients, gay men and other men who have sex with men, people who inject drugs and transgender people.
The report also shows that access to life-saving treatments is fluctuating and growing at the slowest pace in more than a decade.
Three-quarters of all people living with HIV had access to antiretroviral treatment, but 10 million did not.
Globally, new infections have declined since their peak in the mid-1990s, but much remains to be done to achieve the global goal of eliminating AIDS by 2030.
The report comes at a time when high-income countries are cutting aid.
In 2021, international resources available to fight HIV were 6 percent lower than in 2010, with bilateral aid from the United States down 57 percent over the past decade.
“This should be the moment for a burst of international support,” said Ms Byanyima.
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– From Reuters.