IMPACT

Fewer Than One-Third Of People With HIV In Central, West Africa Get Care

Here's how we can close the deadly treatment gap.
A woman who was co-infected with tuberculosis and HIV is hospitalized in the TB ward operating under MSF-France in Carnot Hos
A woman who was co-infected with tuberculosis and HIV is hospitalized in the TB ward operating under MSF-France in Carnot Hospital, Carnot, Central African Republic. 

In order to dramatically reduce the number of AIDS deaths and new HIV infections, the U.N. has to focus on Central and West Africa where affected populations have been “essentially neglected,” a humanitarian organization warned.

In Central and West Africa, 6.5 million people are living with HIV, according to Doctors Without Borders. But more than 4.5 million of them aren’t getting treatment. 

For example, only one in 10 children in need receives antiretroviral drugs, which are key to helping them live long, healthy lives.

Doctors Without Borders is urging the U.N. to make this demographic a greater priority as it prepares to meet this week about a number of “ambitious” goals it has set to achieve in the next five years.

By 2020, the U.N. hopes to end HIV-related discrimination, cut the number of AIDS-related deaths to fewer than 500,000 people a year and slash the number of new infections to fewer than 500,000 a year. 

Such goals won’t be met if the U.N. doesn’t scale up its efforts in Central and West Africa, according to the aid group that brings medical care to conflict zones and underserved areas.

A woman and her children are seen waiting for HIV/AIDS volunteer testing and counseling in Binkolo, Sierra Leone. 
A woman and her children are seen waiting for HIV/AIDS volunteer testing and counseling in Binkolo, Sierra Leone. 

“U.N. member states need to use this opportunity to recommit to people living with HIV in regions of the world that have been essentially neglected despite the tremendous advances in the last decade globally,” Cecilia Ferreyra, HIV medical advisor, said in a statement. 

One of those “advancements” includes the decline in new HIV cases.

In the past 15 years, the number of people newly infected by HIV each year has dropped to 2 million from 3.1 million, according to U.N. data. 

Doctors Without Borders issued its warning at a time when the U.N. has already set far more ambitious goals, and is facing additional obstacles.

As part of its adoption of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals last year, the UN vowed to end AIDS as an epidemic by 2030. 

But even just last month, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that the AIDS epidemic could “rebound” if the world settles for the status quo, Reuters reported.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon delivers a speech at the opening ceremony of the World Humanitarian Summit, in I
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon delivers a speech at the opening ceremony of the World Humanitarian Summit, in Istanbul.

Ban noted that HIV prevention programs have been weakened due to a number of factors, including a lack of funding and poor accountability.

Advocates remain most concerned for adolescents. AIDS is the leading cause of death among teens in Africa and the second leading cause of death for all teens worldwide. 

The main issue is that there aren’t sufficient treatment and prevention programs, which effectively target that demographic.

Since 2000, the number of 10-to-19-year-olds dying from AIDS-related diseases has tripled. And, girls remain more susceptible than boys to contracting the disease both due to biological and social factors.

“We are going to win or lose the HIV battle based on how we respond to the needs of adolescent girls,” Mark Dybul, executive director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, said at the Women Deliver conference in Copenhagen last month.

Doctors without Borders offered up a number of recommendations to efficiently help close the treatment gap in Central and West Africa.

It called for tripling the number of people who start antiretroviral therapy in the next three years.

The group is also urging countries to implement the World Health Organization’s guidelines, which mandates immediate HIV treatment for people living with HIV, no matter how ill they are. Often, HIV patients are turned away because they’re not “sick enough” to qualify for treatment under the outdated criteria.

“We need to speed up scale-up of ART in low-coverage areas to prevent needless suffering, death and new infections,” Ferreyra said in a statement.

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