United Nations: HIV Peaked In ’96, Others Call To Move Funding Elsewhere

Experts from the World Health Organization and UNAIDS said yesterday that the global number of people with AIDS has been unchanged for two years and that the HIV outbreak period probably peaked in 1996.

Daniel Halperin, an AIDS expert at Harvard University, said it was good news the rate of new infections was dropping and that access to AIDS drugs was helping to cut the death rate. Earlier this year, the U.N. announced there are now 4 million people on lifesaving AIDS drugs worldwide, a 10-fold increase in five years. In the report by the World Health Organization and UNAIDS, the experts estimate there are now about 33.4 million people worldwide with HIV. In 2007, the figure was about 33.2 million. The numbers are based on a mathematical model and come with a margin of error of several million people.

The news has renewed calls to redirect research and treatment funding to diseases other than HIV/AIDS.

With the U.N.’s confirmation HIV is now declining in most countries, some experts said the report should change the spending habits of international donors. Globally, HIV causes about 4 percent of all deaths, but gets about 23 cents of every public health dollar. “We shouldn’t let this single disease continue to distort overall global funding, especially when bigger killers like pneumonia and diarrhea in developing countries are far easier and cheaper to treat,” said Philip Stevens, of International Policy Network, a London-based think tank. [snip]Stevens said the fact that AIDS peaked more than a decade ago suggests it is now time for the global community to prioritize other health problems. Outside of the worst-affected countries such as South Africa, respiratory infections, heart disease and malaria are bigger killers. “Against this backdrop, it is unjust that AIDS should commandeer such a disproportionate level of funding,” Stevens said.