AIDS statistics give medical community hope

By Jasminee Sahoye

Newly infected people with HIV/AIDS has dropped from 2.2 million in 2012 to 2.1 million in 2013 - report
Newly infected people with HIV/AIDS has dropped from 2.2 million in 2012 to 2.1 million in 2013 – report

A report released for World AIDS Day, observed this past Monday, indicates that newly infected people with HIV/AIDS has dropped from 2.2 million in 2012 to 2.1 million in 2013.

However, it notes that 2.3 million people worldwide were recently added to the roll of those receiving AIDS treatment in 2013 – a vast increase from 1.6 million in 2012.

Leading campaign and advocacy group ONE declare that for the first time in 30 years, the world has reached a “tipping point” in the global AIDS pandemic, as more people are being added to life-saving AIDS treatment than are becoming infected with HIV.

Report author Erin Hohlfelder, director of Global Health Policy at ONE, says, “Despite the good news, we should not take a victory lap yet. We’ve passed the tipping point in the AIDS fight at the global level but not all countries are there yet and the gains made can easily stall or unravel.”

Three major threats to global progress against AIDS were highlighted in the report.

First is lack of funding as an annual shortfall of $3 billion a year needed to control the disease. Many African countries, according to the report, are not meeting their own promises on health spending and the international donor fund, most from the U.S., the U.K. and France, is unsustainable.

Second, more and more of HIV/AIDS is concentrated in groups that are hardest to reach, often stigmatized and find it difficult to access treatment and prevention services.

The report indicates HIV prevalence is roughly 28 times higher among people who inject drugs, 19 times higher among men who have sex with men and 12 times higher among sex workers. Adolescent girls are another group that is hard to reach.

The third threat to winning the global fight against HIV/AIDS is the fragility of progress – sometimes one step forward is followed by two steps back. The ebola crisis shows how disease can weaken fragile health systems and reverse hard-won progress.

Meanwhile, a ground breaking study shows that a class of drugs that has been used to treat HIV/AIDS for 30 years could be re-purposed as a treatment for age-related macular degeneration. This disease is a leading cause of blindness among the elderly worldwide.

Researchers at the University of Kentucky in Lexington say because of a previously undiscovered property, the drugs may also be effective against other inflammatory disorders.

The international team, who reported their findings in the journal Science, say a major cause of vision loss among the elderly, age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a progressive condition that is untreatable in up to 90% of patients. As AMD progresses, patients find their central vision becomes increasingly blurred and they struggle to read print, recognize people’s faces and drive a car.

“There are two types of AMD: dry and wet. Dry is the most common and least serious form – it progresses slowly and accounts for 90% of cases. Wet AMD is more serious, and without treatment can progress very quickly. It develops when abnormal blood vessels invade the retina and cause cell damage,” the report states.

Senior author Jayakrishna Ambati, professor and vice-chair of Kentucky’s Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, and colleagues investigated a class of drugs called nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs).

NRTIs are the most widely used drugs for treating HIV/AIDS. They are thought to be effective because they target reverse transcriptase – an enzyme that is important for HIV replication.

NRTIs have been around for decades. They were originally developed and used in the 1960s to treat cancer and then, in the late 1980s, they were the first drugs to receive federal approval for the treatment of HIV/AIDS.