LIVING

United Nations AIDS Agency Says HIV Cases Unchanged Since 2012, Claims It Can Stop Epidemic

07/16/2014 05:09 EDT | Updated 09/14/2014 05:59 EDT
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Millions of people in Asia suffer from HIV/AIDS, and millions more lives are affected. Mother to child transmission of the disease, usually after the man contracts AIDS from a sex worker and then transmits it to his wife, has produced children infected with the disease numbering in the hundreds of thousands. Families are torn apart and lives are ruined, all by a disease that could be controlled to high degree with simple education as well as proper medicine and medical facilities. One of the primary reasons for families to be thrust into poverty in the developing world is when one member becomes ill, especially if it's the bread winner of the family and they are infected with illnesses like HIV/AIDS. As a photojournalist it is always difficult to photograph subject matter that you are closely emotionally tied to, yet that emotional tie also allows you a passion for the work and a sense of purpose in documenting it. Photographing people dying from AIDS—the same disease that I lost my father to—has been a personal mission of mine, mainly because I hope to create awareness that may save others from the pain of living with the disease, dying from it or losing a loved one to it. When you know what it is like for someone to suffer through AIDS in the Western world, watching people suffer through it in the absolute worst of conditions is beyond difficult. To see people sleeping on hospital floors, coated in flies with barely enough energy to open their eyes to look at you, it is hard to bring the camera up to your face and shoot. But this is my job; it is what I have chosen to do and I have done so because I believe in the power of the still image to effect change. This story was photographed between 2004 and 2005 and re-edited in 2009.
LONDON - The number of people living with HIV worldwide has remained virtually unchanged in the past two years and AIDS-related deaths are at their lowest since peaking almost a decade ago, according to a report from the United Nations AIDS agency released Wednesday.

Officials declared that ending the AIDS epidemic is possible even though they acknowledged the number of new infections — more than 2 million last year — was still very high. UNAIDS estimated there were about 35 million people living with HIV last year and in 2012.

The agency also set targets to reduce deaths and new cases by 90 per cent by 2030. It previously unveiled a strategy to get to "zero AIDS-related deaths," which included ensuring all people who need treatment are on it by 2015.

Last year, there were about 12.9 million people receiving life-saving drugs and 22 million people still waiting. Some 1.5 million people died from AIDS-related causes.

Other health experts questioned whether setting more ambitious targets is wise.

"This idea of ending AIDS isn't realistic," said Sophie Harman, a senior lecturer in public health at Queen Mary University of London, who was not part of the report. She said it would be more helpful to think about managing the epidemic. "Everyone can get behind ending AIDS, but this report doesn't really tell us how to do that."

Still, UNAIDS insisted in its report that we are at the "beginning of the end of the AIDS epidemic" and said the global outbreak can be stopped by 2030.

But with no vaccine and millions of people carrying the virus or becoming newly infected, some scientists said ending HIV may be idealistic rather than practical.

"We've made progress, but the number of people getting infected is still extraordinarily high," said Shabbar Jaffar, a professor of epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. He said that scaling up treatment further, especially in Africa, where about 70 per cent of people with HIV live, would be very difficult. "They are already working beyond capacity at the moment."

Jaffar said it was misleading to suggest we are close to eliminating AIDS.

"The road will get longer and harder and we really don't know where we're going to end up," he said.

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