Despite Huge Successes In HIV Prevention And Treatment, We Must Not Rest On Our Laurels

As we mark the 21st anniversary of World AIDS Day I'm delighted to see figures from UNAIDS announcing the death toll from HIV has dropped by more than 10% over the last five years. It's tremendously positive to note that finally, more people than ever before are receiving treatment for HIV and AIDS and that fortunately advances are being made.

Not only has this led to a reassuring drop in the number of people dying of AIDS overall but globally new infections also continue to decline.

Statistics prove that in prevention a proactive approach works. Sub-Saharan Africa has made remarkable strides in expanding access to services to prevent mother to child HIV transmission. In 2008, 45% of HIV-positive pregnant women received antiretroviral drugs -- this compares to just 9% in 2004. In Europe mother-to-child transmission has virtually been wiped out thanks to medical advances. In South Africa, the proportion of adults reporting condom use during their first sexual encounter more than doubled, rising from 31.3% in 2002 to 64.8% in 2008. Despite these successes though we must not rest our laurels.

The paradox of HIV is that it still has devastating consequences for millions of people across the globe and in 2008 it was estimated that over 33.4 million people were living with the disease, yet it is relatively simple to contain.

We already have a life-saving formula to prolong the lives of those infected with HIV -- antiretroviral therapy; it has been proven to work in a number of countries and can be replicated pretty much anywhere. Despite these advances, we are still faced with a situation where globally, five people are becoming infected for every two treated.

I find it harrowing to remember that across the world almost 60 million people have been infected with HIV and over 25 million of those have already lost their lives to HIV-related causes. It's an epidemic that has rightly been described as the single greatest reversal in human development.

The main obstacle is political will and resource but it's time to remove the blinders that have limited our action on HIV prevention. Now is the time to do what needs to be done.

In Europe the rate of newly reported cases of HIV infection nearly doubled between 2000 and 2007. Progress in reducing infection rates in high income countries in general has stalled even though they have access to the best communications systems in the world with mobile phone, TV, print media and digital and broadband penetration at its highest. If these platforms were utilized properly and supported by governments, think of the creative opportunity we in the media industry could use to help ensure prevention and awareness messages that fight the stigma attached to this disease were continuously and effectively reaching young people around the world.

In 2008, $15.6 billion was estimated to be available from all sources to fight HIV, yet UNAIDS predicts $25 billion will be needed for HIV services in 2010 -- this is a vast gap in funding and one that we must fill to stop HIV blighting another generation. In the last year alone 430,000 children were born with HIV, bringing to 2.1 million the total number of children under 15 living with the infection. Despite its advances, Sub-Saharan Africa is now home to 91% of all new infections among children.

Further evidence reflecting the need for openness, education and support in the fight against HIV/AIDS can be found in Russia where the government's lack of funding for needle exchange programmes for drug users has contributed to estimated HIV infection rates rising to over 1,000,000.

Every day young people encounter a variety of pressures that put them at risk of contracting HIV. MTV's Staying Alive aims to ensure that young people around the world know the risks they face and how to protect themselves.

Minds, money and motivation are the raw material for achieving great things. We've carved canals between continents, built cities in deserts and created a revolution in global communications. Strong political leadership and a bold and honest approach to tackling the cause of infection must exist in order to bridge these gaps to achieve universal access to prevention, treatment, care and support.

Recently I was at the Brandenberg Gate to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and it reminded me just how much we can achieve when people, communities, and countries pull together for the common good. The only excuse for not marshalling the resources and ingenuity of humanity to stem the blight of this disease is that we simply choose not to. There is no excuse; we know what we need to do. In the words of Maya Angelou, "History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, and if faced with courage, need not be lived again."

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