In 2000, a year's course of anti-retroviral drugs cost $10,000 and projections caused consternation even in Western countries coping with a few thousand cases of HIV. The idea that treatment might be rolled out to millions in the developing world seemed a pipe dream.
Today, that same course of drugs can be had for $100 a year. Thanks to one of the most effective lobbying efforts to fight any disease ever, eight million people throughout the world are now receiving treatment. Deaths and new infections are down. More people are living with HIV than ever before – it has changed from being a terminal illness to a chronic disease. Yet the virus continues to spread at an alarming rate – infecting a further 2.5 million people in 2011.
There are three proven cost-effective ways to curb the pandemic, identified by the leading environmentalist Bjorn Lomborg in his book Rethink HIV. They are male circumcision, which can reduce male-to-female transmission by 60 per cent; scaling up treatment with anti-retroviral drugs, and treating more pregnant women to prevent transmission of the virus to their babies.
Leading Aids agencies say there is an annual $6bn gap between what is needed and what has been pledged by governments for Aids programmes. Bridging it could spell the beginning of the end of the worst disease of modern times.