The U.N. General Assembly High-Level Meeting on Ending AIDS wrapped up on June 10, but there is still so much work left to do. At the event’s opening on Wednesday, officials announced that major strides had been made from 2009 to 2015 in reducing AIDS-related deaths of women and children in the 21 African countries most at risk from the disease.
There was a 60% decline in new HIV infections among children since 2009 in those high-priority African countries. And more people with AIDS have access to life-saving treatments than ever before, even in the poorest and most vulnerable countries. In 2005, fewer than 10% of children had access to antiretroviral treatment, but now half do. With access to the right medicines, AIDS-related deaths among young women declined by 43% between 2009 and 2015. People are talking of an AIDS-free generation being within reach.
But the world shouldn’t pat itself on the back just yet, because new HIV infections among young women have dropped only 5% during that same time period. This is far below the 50% target of the U.N.’s Global anti-AIDS plan (launched in 2011), and “suggests that women, including young women, continue to be left behind and are not being reached with HIV prevention services,” the press release stated. Between 2009 and 2015, between 3.8 million and 5.4 million women became newly infected with HIV in the 21 priority countries in sub-Saharan Africa. AIDS-related illnesses remain the leading cause of death among youth in Africa.
All efforts to save the lives of those unfortunate souls that have contracted AIDS should be scaled up to full coverage. But prevention is much easier and cheaper than treatment after it’s too late. Contraceptives and accurate (i.e., not religiously-distorted) sexual health education need to be provided to all at-risk youth in these countries. Only then will an AIDS-free generation be possible.