Mike, mcgillmedicalstudent MD-PhD
In the 30 years since HIV/AIDS was first discovered, the disease has become a devastating pandemic, taking the lives of 30 million people around the world. In 2010 alone, HIV/AIDS killed 1.8 million people, 1.2 million of whom were living in sub-Saharan Africa. Though life-saving antiretroviral treatment is available, access is not yet widespread; of the estimated 14.2 million HIV-positive individuals in need of treatment, nearly 8 million are not currently able to access it.
Even more troublesome, new HIV infections continue to outpace those added onto antiretroviral treatment. More than 330,000 infants and children were newly infected with HIV in 2010, and 2.5 million total new HIV infections occurred in the same year—a rate that has held relatively constant since 2006.
Because individuals in their most productive years (15-49 years old) are most commonly infected with HIV/AIDS, the disease has a wide socioeconomic impact that threatens development progress in many poor countries, especially those in sub-Saharan Africa. 14.8 million children in the region have already lost one or more parents to the disease. In South Africa alone, 1.9 million children have been orphaned due to AIDS, exacerbating a social dynamic that is already deeply challenged by crime, violence and unemployment. HIV/AIDS targets people during their most productive years, making economic progress in many sub-Saharan African countries even more of a challenge. Some estimates suggest that annual GDP growth in highly affected countries can be 2-4% lower than in countries with the absence of AIDS.
In 2005, world leaders at the G8 summit in Gleneagles and at the U.N. World Summit in New York pledged to reach universal access to prevention, care and treatment by 2010. Though this target was not achieved, leaders recommitted to the fight against AIDS in 2011 by agreeing to work toward achieving universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support by 2015. Delivering these essential services will require a strengthening of health systems, especially in Africa, which is home to two-thirds of those requiring antiretroviral (ARV) treatment, but only 3% of the global health care workers to provide it.
We are at a critical moment in the fight against HIV/AIDS. The world has made incredible progress in its efforts to understand, prevent and treat this disease, and progress has been par