With HIV Incidence Plateauing, a Push for an AIDS-free Society

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, whose department oversees the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), laid out an ambitious goal of achieving an AIDS-free generation in a Nov. 8 address to the US National Institutes of Health. Clinton said prevention of mother-to-child transmission, expanding adult male circumcision programs, and more widespread treatment of HIV-infected individuals to curb transmission will all help pave the way to an AIDS-free generation.  

According to an annual report released Nov. 21 by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), there is continued progress in battling AIDS, but achieving an AIDS-free generation remains a daunting task. UNAIDS estimates that 2.7 million people have become newly HIV infected each year for the last five years. The report noted that the number of new HIV infections occurring globally in 2010 dropped by more than 21% since 1997, when incidence peaked worldwide, which UNAIDS attributes primarily to behavioral changes including reductions in the numbers of sexual partners, increased condom use, and delayed age of first sex. In some countries, like Botswana, declines in incidence were also attributed to wider availability of antiretroviral (ARV) treatment. The number of people receiving treatment globally has steadily increased. Now, 6.6 million or 46% of the HIV-infected people in low- and middle-income countries eligible for treatment are receiving ARVs.  

In sub-Saharan Africa, new cases declined by 26% since 1997, led by a 33% drop in South Africa, which continues to have the highest number of HIV-infected individuals. But from 2008 to 2010, there was an alarming 23% surge in the number of new HIV infections among adults and children in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, helping keep the global number of new infections steady.