"The world has delivered on halting and reversing the AIDS epidemic" according to Ban Ki-moon, secretary-general of the United Nations, after a new report released today.

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Could AIDS be eradicated in 15 years?

The findings, released by the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), suggest the disease may be fully eradicated by 2030.

Ban has now called on the world to "commit to ending the AIDS epidemic as part of the Sustainable Development Goals."

The Secretary-General's comments come 15 years after the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were first created as part of the Sustainable Development Goals, which were implemented and agreed by member states of the UN.

In 2000, eight MDGs were created to tackle a range of issues such as global education and children's health. MDG 6 specifically focused on tackling HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases across the world. Two targets were set to combat HIV/AIDS:

  • To achieve universal access to treatment for all those who need it by 2010
  • To have halted the disease by 2015 and begun to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS.

In the year MDGs were developed, the world experienced an extraordinary surge of new HIV cases. An estimated 3.1 million HIV new infections were recorded, with 8,500 people becoming newly infected and 4,300 people dying of AIDS-related illnesses every day.

A new report released on the eve of the Third International Conference on Financing for Development, called the world's response to the HIV/AIDS crisis as one of the smartest investments in global health and development; generating measurable results for people and economies.

In 2000, it was estimated new HIV infections would rise to 6 million by 2014 if urgent action and measures were not taken. The world's reaction was incredible, Michel Sidibé, executive director of UNAIDS, explains:

"The world went from millions to billions and each dollar invested today is producing a $17 return. If we front-load investments and fast-track our efforts over the next 5 years, we will end the AIDS epidemic by 2030."

The report reveals that,between 2000 and 2014:

  • New HIV infections dropped from 3.1 million to 2 million, a reduction of 35%
  • 15 million people now have access to antiretroviral therapy
  • Among those infected, deaths from tuberculosis fell by 33%
  • 83 countries that account for 83% of all people living with HIV/AIDS have now halted and reversed the epidemics
  • The percentage of pregnant women living with HIV with access to antiretroviral therapy rose to 73% and new HIV infections among children dropped by 58%
  • The price of medicines for HIV has decreased by 99%, to around $100 per person per year for first-line formulations.

Abiyot Godana, from the Ethiopian community of people living with HIV, spoke of her hope for a future free of AIDS. She says:

"As a mother living with HIV I did everything in my capacity to ensure my children were born HIV-free. My husband has grabbed my vision of ending AIDS and together we won't let go of this hope. Our two children are a part of an AIDS-free generation and will continue our legacy."

Still much work to be done

The report represents a major milestone in the fight against AIDS/HIV in key populations, but significant gaps remain.

New HIV infections rates are now rising among men who have sex with men, notably in western Europe and North America, where major declines were previously experienced. According to the report, HIV prevention must be adapted to suit the new audience.

Men can prevent the risk of infection by undergoing circumcision, and the number doing so is rising. From 2008-14, about 9.1 million men in 14 priority countries underwent the operation. Ethiopia and Kenya have both already exceeded their target of 80% coverage.

However, progress in ensuring access to children infected has been reported as slower. As of 2014, only 32% of the 2.6 million children living with HIV had been diagnosed, and only 32% of children living with HIV had access to antiretroviral therapy.

In addition, greater emphasis is required on furthering HIV testing. It is reported only 54% (19.8 million) of the 36.9 million people who are living with HIV knew that they were living with the virus.

According to the report, UNAIDS estimates that $31.9 billion is required for the AIDS response in 2020, followed by a further $29.3 billion in 2030 to fully eradicate the disease from the world and achieve an AIDS-free legacy for the next generation.