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UN: Goal to end AIDS epidemic by 2030 'ambitious but realistic'

World has reversed the spread of HIV/AIDS, but more needs to be done to eradicate it, body says

The world can end the AIDS epidemic by 2030, the United Nations said on Tuesday, highlighting global success in rolling out life-saving drugs over the last 15 years.

The U.N. Millennium Development Goal to halt and reverse the spread of the disease has been achieved, said UNAIDS, the global body's agency focusing on the disease.

"Ending the AIDS epidemic as a public health threat by 2030 is ambitious, but realistic, as the history of the past 15 years has shown," U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a report released at a financing conference in Ethiopia on Tuesday.

Some 15 million people are receiving antiretroviral treatment for HIV/AIDS, a staggering increase from less than 700,000 in 2000.

At that time, patients had to take an average of eight pills per day, costing $10,000 a year. Today, medicines can be bought for $100 a year. These medicines keep the virus from growing and multiplying — helping people to live longer and reducing the chances that they will transmit HIV to others.

“Fifteen years ago there was a conspiracy of silence. AIDS was a disease of the ‘others’ and treatment was for the rich and not for the poor,” Michel Sidibé, executive director of UNAIDS, said in a statement. “We proved them wrong, and today we have 15 million people on treatment — 15 million success stories.”

The key to change, he said, was breaking the pharmaceutical industry's "tight grip" on government policies and drug prices. Legislation allowing developing countries to override patent rights was critical, allowing them to manufacture copies of the drugs and cut prices.

Investment in HIV/AIDS research surged to almost $22 billion in 2015 from less than $5 billion in 2001.

Meanwhile, AIDS-related deaths dropped more than 40 percent since 2004 to 1.2 million a year, the U.N. report said. New HIV infections have fallen by 35 percent since 2001 to 2 million a year in 2014. One of the most remarkable successes has been reducing new infections among children by 58 percent between 2000 and 2014, the agency said.

This has been achieved by ensuring women with HIV receive medicine to prevent them from passing on the infection when they give birth. Last month, Cuba became the first country in the world to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV.

Despite these successes, government funding in low- and middle-income countries has started to level off, according to a report by the Kaiser Family Foundation also published on Tuesday. In 2014, total government investment increased by less than two percent, with the bulk of the money coming from the United States and the United Kingdom, the report found.

What’s more, the number of HIV infections among men who have sex with men is on the rise in Western Europe and North America, alerting health officials to the need for developing policies targeted toward the group, UNAIDS said in a statement. 

The agency also warned of laws that discriminate against people living with HIV and the persistent exclusion of transgender people from policies that aim to combat the virus.

The medical charity Doctors Without Borders warned against complacency, pointing out in a statement on Tuesday that more than half of almost 37 million people living with HIV worldwide still do not have access to treatment.

Al Jazeera and Reuters

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