We are winning the battle against one of the more intractable scourges of the modern era, judging by the United Nations’ latest report on HIV/Aids. The number of children being infected with the disease has dropped by half since 2001, the number of adults by a third. Deaths are also down by 30 per cent in less than a decade. And the future is rosier still. By 2030, the global epidemic that has claimed 36 million lives so far could even be over, according to a top UN official. “HIV will continue existing but not at the epidemic level we have today,” Dr Luiz Loures says.
In part, we have science to thank for such progress. Antiretroviral drugs have turned a near-universal killer into a manageable condition, at a cost that has dropped from $15,000 per year to $150. As research continues, there is every reason to hope for better treatments, even a cure.
But there is also a lesson in global co-operation here. Individuals, organisations and governments across the world have come together to educate people, to hand out condoms and set up clinics, and to get drugs to the infected. It is no small thing that, by the end of 2012, some 10 million people in low- or middle-income countries were taking antiretroviral treatments, 20 per cent more than in the previous year.
It is too soon for complacency though. The statistics may be going the right way at last, but ranks of the newly infected still outnumber those in treatment. There is also worrying evidence of a drop in condom use, particularly in hard-hit sub-Saharan Africa. The infection is also still sharply on the rise among hard-to-reach groups such as gay men and sex workers.
If Dr Loures is right, we will – with a mixture of science, campaigning and hard cash – have beaten an enemy that once seemed invincible. But we are not there yet.