AIDS: rise in HIV infections in Asia and the Pacific for the first time in a decade

While the world has focused its attention on the Covid-19 pandemic, attempts to stop another notorious virus have failed with potentially deadly consequences.

Now experts are warning that the slackening of the fight against HIV/AIDS has led to a global spike in cases, with one of the biggest cases right in Australia’s backyard.

A report released this week showed that HIV cases in the Asia-Pacific region are on the rise for the first time in a decade.

The report, titled “At Risk”, showed a sharp decline in new HIV infections in the Caribbean and West and Central Africa, contrasting with a historic increase of 260,000 new cases in Asia and the Pacific.

Australian microbiologist and Pacific Friends of Global Health chairman Professor Brendan Crabbe called the report a wake-up call.

“While we were all focused on Covid, HIV/AIDS has unfortunately bounced back; we need to manage this and reduce the number of new infections,” said Professor Crabb.

“Epidemics do not have a stable state. They either expand or contract. So we need to get this epidemic back on track.”

The main vehicle responsible for fighting the AIDS epidemic, the Global Fund, is currently seeking to raise at least US$18 billion to put the world back on track to eliminate HIV, TB and malaria.

In 2020, the Global Fund helped 21.9 million people access life-saving HIV antiretroviral therapy.

Australia has donated $961.31 million to the fund so far, making it the 13th largest public donor in the world.

Professor Crabb wants Australia to invest another $450 million to help save lives in neighboring countries.

“For every US dollar invested by the Australian government, the Global Fund partnership has invested approximately $13 in our region,” he said.

“All the tools needed to stop HIV transmission are in place. We just need political and financial commitment.

“If we don’t increase our investment in the fight against HIV, we risk losing decades of hard-won progress. This will have a profound human impact, destroying the livelihoods and health of hundreds of thousands of people in our region.”

Between 2020 and 2021, there were 1.5 million new HIV infections worldwide, three times the international target.

Overall, this is just a 3.6 percent drop in new cases, the smallest annual drop since 2017.

UNAIDS Executive Director Winnie Byanyima said the global response to the epidemic was in “grave danger”.

“When international support was most needed, global solidarity ground to a halt. Leaders should not mistake a huge red traffic light for a stop sign. This should be the moment for a burst of international support,” she said.

“We can end AIDS by 2030 as promised, but it takes courage.”

Originally published as HIV shock boom in Australia’s backyard sparks calls for more