Report: 18.2 Million People Worldwide Are on HIV Antiretroviral Therapy

Improved access to life-saving drugs has extended survival

A new report by the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) shows that countries are getting on the “fast track,” with an additional one million people accessing treatment in just six months (January to June 2016). By June 2016, around 18.2 million (16.1 million to 19.0 million) people had access to the life-saving medicines, including 910,000 children—double the number from five years earlier. If these efforts are sustained and increased, the world will be on track to achieve the target of 30 million people on antiretroviral treatment by 2020.

Get on the Fast-Track: The Life-Cycle Approach to HIV was launched in Windhoek, Namibia, by Namibian President Hage Geingob and UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé. “Just under two years ago, 15 million people were accessing antiretroviral treatment—today more than 18 million are on treatment, and new HIV infections among children continue to fall,” said President Geingob. “Now, we must ensure that the world stays on the fast track to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030 in Namibia, in Africa, and across the world.”

The report contains detailed data on the complexities of HIV and reveals that girls’ transition to womanhood is a very dangerous time, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. “Young women are facing a triple threat,” said Sidibé. “They are at high risk of HIV infection, have low rates of HIV testing, and have poor adherence to treatment. The world is failing young women and we urgently need to do more.”

HIV prevention is key to ending the AIDS epidemic among young women. Recent data from South Africa show that young women are acquiring HIV from adult men, while men acquire HIV much later in life after they transition into adulthood and continue the cycle of new infections.

The report also shows the life-extending impact of treatment. In 2015, there were more people older than 50 years of age living with HIV than ever before—5.8 million. The report highlights that if treatment targets are reached, that number is expected to soar to 8.5 million by 2020. Older people living with HIV, however, have up to five times the risk of chronic disease, and a comprehensive strategy is needed to respond to increasing long-term health care costs.

The report also warns of the risk of drug resistance and the need to reduce the costs of second- and third-line treatments. It also highlights the need for more synergies with tuberculosis (TB), human papillomavirus and cervical cancer, and hepatitis C programs in order to reduce the major causes of illness and death among people living with HIV. In 2015, 440,000 of the 1.1 million people who died from an AIDS-related illness died from TB, including 40,000 children.

“The progress we have made is remarkable, particularly around treatment, but it is also incredibly fragile,” Sidibé said. “New threats are emerging, and if we do not act now we risk resurgence and resistance. We have seen this with TB. We must not make the same mistakes again.”

The report outlines that large numbers of people at higher risk of HIV infection and people living in high-burden areas are being left without access to HIV services at critical points in their lives, opening the door to new HIV infections and increasing the risk of dying from AIDS-related illnesses. The report examines the gaps and approaches needed in HIV programming across the life cycle and offers tailored HIV prevention and treatment solutions for every stage of life.

Sources: UNAIDS; November 21, 2016; Fast-Track Report, November 2016.