AIDS Pandemic Nearing Tipping Point, And That's a Very Positive Sign

In this day and age, it's nice to make note of heartening news wherever it presents itself. And while you might not expect for anything heartening to emerge out of one of the worst viral pandemics in human history, here's some actual good news. For over 30 years, HIV/AIDS has been a scourge on public health across the world, leaving a staggering number of people dead — nearly 39 million from 1981 to 2013, according to amFAR. But now, at long last, there are signs that this harrowing pandemic may be starting to turn around: the AIDS pandemic is nearing a "tipping point," according to activist group the ONE Campaign.

As detailed by Reuters' Kate Kelland, the ONE Campaign's report was released in advance of World AIDS Day, which falls on Dec. 1. And while it calls for exactly the type of measured caution you'd expect — it's essential to stay vigilant in the midst of any public health crisis, after all — it also lays claim to a major milestone in worldwide history of HIV/AIDS. Basically, for the first time on record, the number of HIV-infected patients who began taking potentially life-saving drugs in 2014 outpaced the number of new people who contracted it. In other words, the battle to get people suffering from HIV/AIDS on the medications they need to extend their lives is slowly but surely being won.

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As detailed by Reuters' Kate Kelland, however, the ONE Campaign (as well, no doubt, as countless HIV/AIDS activists worldwide) don't want to give off the impression that things don't require further attention. As Erin Hohlfelder said, the group's director of global health policy, it's worth avoiding "victory laps" until you're sure you've won.

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.

They highlighted a few major concerns moving forward for the global HIV-AIDS fight — poor funding, locating and treating people in stigmatized, high-risk activities like intravenous drug use and sex work, and the risk of health system failures letting the progress backslide. Hohlfelder laid out three prescriptions to overcome these challenges, as detailed in the report.

  • "Based on the findings, we want to see bold new funding from a more diversified base—including more from African domestic budgets—because we can’t rely on the same handful of donors every year."
  • "We are calling on those involved in the AIDS fight to target HIV where it is, not where it is easiest to reach—and that requires not just more money, but more effective programming and political pressure to help reach the most marginalised."
  • "Finally, we must build resilient health systems that can tackle AIDS along with other health changes, so that the next time a crisis like Ebola emerges, countries will be able to weather the storm."
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His invocation of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa is a worthy one, and not only because the World Health Organization (WHO) has also warned against taking gains against the virus as a license to stop paying attention. Both viruses have been subject to a lot of wild misinformation over the years. To say nothing of the stigma that's gone along with HIV/AIDS — in the United States you don't need to go back very far to find a time when the American government's stance was deafening silence.

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