Sep. 23, 2013 at 1:29 PM ET
Infections with the AIDS virus have plummeted more than 50 percent among children and by a third among adults since 2001, the United Nations reports Monday in a welcome bit of good news about the pandemic.
Deaths from the fatal and incurable virus have fallen 30 percent since 2005 thanks to drugs that can help keep patients healthy, the U.N. agency UNAIDS said.
“New HIV infections have fallen by 33 percent since 2001,” the report reads. “Worldwide, 2.3 million people became newly infected with HIV in 2012, down from 3.4 million in 2001.”
For children, the numbers fell 52 percent, from 260,000 to 550,000.
According to the report, 35 million people are infected with HIV, and 1.6 million died from the many diseases that the virus causes. Tuberculosis is the major cause of AIDS-related death. The virus attacks the immune system, making patients susceptible to infections and cancer.
“Since the start of the epidemic an estimated 36 million people have died of AIDS-related illnesses,” the report said. In the United States, about 1.1 million people have HIV, and just under 49,000 are newly infected each year.
The U.N. and other health agencies now advocate quick use of pills to help keep the virus under control. Not only can they keep patients from getting sick, but they lower the risk that an infected person will infect someone else.
It works especially well in protecting newborns when their mothers are infected.
“As a result of sustained progress, the world has the potential to reach at least 90 percent of pregnant women living with HIV with antiretroviral interventions by 2015,” the report reads.
The UNAIDS report also says that in 2012, 9.7 million people in low- and middle-income countries who are infected with the human immunodeficiency virus that causes AIDS were able to get these medications. That’s just over a third of those the World Health Organizations says should be treated.
The report said the world spent just under $19 billion fighting AIDS in 2012 and that by 2015, $22 billion to $24 billion will be needed. “The world is within reach of providing antiretroviral therapy to 15 million people by 2015,” it added.
But it’s not all progress. “In several countries that have experienced significant declines in new HIV infections, disturbing signs have emerged of increases in sexual risk behaviors among young people,” UNAIDS Executive Director Dr. Michel Sidibe said in the report.
“Stigma and discrimination remain rife in many parts of the world, and punitive laws continue to deter those most at risk from seeking essential HIV services,” he added.