Equalise to end AIDS epidemic: WHO on World AIDS Day

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New Delhi, Dec 1 (IANS) The World Health Organisation has joined the member states and partners in the South-East Asia Region and across the world to highlight the urgent need for
equitable access to quality HIV prevention, testing, treatment and care to end the AIDS epidemic" as a public health threat by 2030.

As an estimation, around 38.4 million people are living with HIV globally. In 2021, an estimated 1.5 million people acquired HIV and around 650 000 people died from AIDS-related causes.

"In the South-East Asia Region, an estimated 3.8 million people are living with HIV, accounting for around 10% of the global burden. In 2021, an estimated 82 000 people in the Region died of AIDS-related causes, accounting for more than 12 per cent of the global burden", said WHO South-East Asia region in a statement on the occasion of World AIDS Day.

The region continues to take targeted action to end HIV-related inequalities and expand service coverage, in line with its Flagship Priority on achieving universal health coverage (UHC) and the Region's new Integrated Action Plan for viral hepatitis, HIV and sexually transmitted infections (I-RAP 2022-2026), launched in September 2022, said Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, WHO Regional Director for South-East Asia.

Dr Singh said that by the end of 2020, 75 per cent of people in the Region living with HIV knew their status, 61 per cent were on anti-retroviral therapy, and 58 per cent were virally suppressed, meaning that despite strong progress, the Region fell short of the 90-90-90 targets, which were also missed globally. In December 2020, both the Region and world committed to ensure that by 2025, 95 per cent of all people living with HIV know their status, 95 per cent of all people with diagnosed HIV infection receive sustained anti-retroviral therapy, and 95 per cent of all people receiving anti-retroviral therapy have viral suppression, she added.

"We have people and populations to reach, and progress to achieve. Across the region, almost 95 per cent of new HIV infections are among key populations such as sex workers, people who inject drugs, men who have sex with men, and transgender people. Just 22 per cent of young people have knowledge about HIV prevention, and coverage of testing for people who inject drugs has significant room for improvement. Access to game-changing innovations such as HIV self-testing and pre-exposure prophylaxis remains highly uneven, both within and between countries", WHO South-East Asia region Director said.

Among other measures, WHO is calling for action in several key areas like policy makers and programme managers should rapidly increase the availability, quality and sustainability of HIV services, ensuring that everyone - especially key populations - are well-served and actively included in service provision.

The WHO called for political leaders and other key influencers should immediately reform laws, policies and practices that facilitate both direct and indirect discrimination, stigma and exclusion. The policy makers and other national, international and global actors must accelerate access for all countries and communities to the best HIV science, technologies and tools, which should be accompanied by evidence-based information on how best to deliver them, including through increased South-South collaboration and learning.

"The inequalities which keep the AIDS epidemic alive are not inevitable. Together, we must end each and every inequality and accelerate progress towards our targets and goals" said Dr Singh, adding that WHO reiterates its commitment to achieve a region and world in which AIDS is no longer a public health threat.

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