Over the last 25 or so years, many individuals working on the front lines in the fight against HIV and AIDS have had to become accustomed to accepting and celebrating the little victories.  Barring a few notable exceptions where a given community or country has been able to legitimately curb and reduce the spread of HIV, many of us have excitedly relished in those moments when on an individual level, or in an individual case, a level of understanding, or the standard of living, of someone infected or affected by HIV/AIDS has improved.  Recognizing that, in aggregate, these moments are a significant variable in an eventual end to the HIV/AIDS pandemic, has, however, been at times trying, especially in the face of the overwhelming AIDS statistics released annually. This is why many were ecstatic this week to learn that 22 of the worst affected countries in sub-Saharan Africa have reduced new HIV infections by over 25%.

This new data was made available in a UNAIDS press release issued September 17th, just ahead of the upcoming United Nations Summit on the Millennium Development Goals.  In it, UNAIDS Executive Secretary Michel Sidibe states that “for the first time change is happening at the heart of the epidemic. In places where HIV was stealing away dreams, we now have hope”.

The press release also goes on to highlight other significant improvements in the realm of both prevention and access to treatment. In 2008 there were 200,000 less AIDS related deaths when compared to 2004 statistics. This is largely due to increased access to ARV’s which are now used by 5.2 million people, a “12 fold increase in 6 years”. Further, data indicates that young people are playing a significant role in helping reduce the spread of HIV by choosing to have sex later, having fewer multiple partners and using condoms.

This success, however, still lays in the shadow of overwhelming numbers and only highlights the need for increased attention and investment which has already begun to dwindle over the last two years. In 2009 an estimated US $15.9 billion was made available to combat HIV and AIDS, which was roughly US $10 billion short of the estimated need.

UNAIDS has recommended that governments allocate between 0.5% and 3% of government revenue on HIV, depending on that countries prevalence. This recommendation comes alongside suggestions on how to improve the sustainability, efficiency and effectiveness of the requested funding.

As Art for AIDS International continues to focus on giving young people the tools they need to understand and prevent HIV, as well as on raising funds to support community organizations in some of the 22 countries mentioned in the UNAIDS press release, we strongly encourage everyone else to continue keeping HIV/AIDS on their radar and to consider ways through which they can help continue to halt the spread of HIV.

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