Global fight against HIV/AIDS moves toward feasible targets, UNAIDS finds

Simon Bland, director of the New York Office of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, briefs journalists on the occasion of World AIDS Day. Photo by: Evan Schneider / U.N.

UNITED NATIONS — Without a vaccine or a cure for HIV/AIDS, it could prove difficult to end the epidemic by 2030, according to Simon Bland, the director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS New York office.

But UNAIDS is still working toward feasible, quantitative targets — including less than 500,000 new infections by 2020 — in combating HIV, which an estimated 36.7 million people live with globally.

“We certainly want quantitative targets, but quantitative targets done without quality don’t work,” Bland told reporters at U.N. headquarters Friday afternoon, which marked World AIDS Day, a commemoration he described as “a remarkable story of progress, but unfinished progress.”

“Where I get excited within the SDGs is we know what success for us looks like. In 2020, we know that success for us is less than 500,000 new infections and less than 500,000 new deaths and zero stigma and discrimination,” said Bland, who most recently headed the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development global funds department.

“We certainly want quantitative targets, but quantitative targets done without quality don’t work.”

— Simon Bland, director, UNAIDS New York Liaison office

“Without a vaccine and a cure, [ending the epidemic] is difficult. Not the HIV, but the AIDS part,” he said. “So it is that vision, our mission is to have the trajectory within the 2020 milestones.” Continued progress on these 2020 benchmarks will require a $26.2 billion investment in low- and middle-income countries.

In 2016, approximately 1.8 million people became newly infected with HIV. Around 54 percent of all people living with HIV, nearly 21 million, had access to treatment — including just 43 percent of children living with the virus. UNICEF warned on Friday that, if current trends continue, there could be 3.5 million new adolescents infected with HIV by 2030. UNAIDS announced an ambitious strategy in 2014 to fast-track an end to the epidemic by 2030.

Two new studies to test a HIV vaccine were announced on Friday. One of them is testing a two-vaccine combination developed by Johnson & Johnson, the U.S. National Institutes of Health, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Reuters reported.

“We may not be on track for the SDG targets, but the AIDS response is quite remarkable. We must continue to set high ambitions.”

— Simon Bland, director, UNAIDS New York Liaison office

While adolescent women continue to face an increased risk of HIV infection, a new UNAIDS report identifies men as a “perplexing” vulnerable group. Men are less likely than women to know their HIV status, and as a result, less likely to access and keep up with HIV treatment. That places them at a higher risk than women of dying from AIDS-related illnesses, according to the report, “Blind Spot.” Globally, men accounted for about 58 percent of the 1 million AIDS-related deaths in 2016.

Since the early 1980s, when HIV/AIDS was considered a death sentence for many, funding for “not one epidemic, but countless epidemics,” as Bland said, has soared. From 1986 to 2013, investment in AIDS programs in low- and middle-income countries rose from less than $100 million to more than $19 billion.

AIDS-related deaths have fallen 48 percent since their peak in 2005, according to UNAIDS.

“We may not be on track for the SDG targets, but the AIDS response is quite remarkable,” said Bland. “We must continue to set high ambitions.”

Read more Devex coverage on HIV/AIDS response.

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  • Lieberman amy

    Amy Lieberman

    Amy Lieberman is the New York Correspondent for Devex. She covers the United Nations and reports on global development and politics. Amy previously worked as a freelance reporter, covering the environment, human rights, immigration, and health across the U.S. and in more than 10 countries, including Colombia, Mexico, Nepal, and Cambodia. Her coverage has appeared in the Guardian, the Atlantic, Slate, and the Los Angeles Times. A native New Yorker, Amy received her master’s degree in politics and government from Columbia’s School of Journalism.