UNAIDS: Worldwide HIV Treatment Use Doubled in 5 Years Due to Fast-Track Strategy

The number of people receiving treatment for HIV has more than doubled in five years worldwide, thanks in part to more governments adopting UNAIDS "fast-track" strategy, according to a new study released by UNAIDS.

In advance of World AIDS Day, the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), released a report showing that an estimated 15.8 million people were receiving antiretroviral therapy in June 2015. This is up from 7.5 million in 2010 and 2.2 million in 2005.

UNAIDS attributes this sharp increase to the widespread adoption of the "fast-track" strategy. In 2014, UNAIDS released a report entitled Fast Track: Ending the AIDS Epidemic by 2030. The report outlined ambitious new targets to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030 and prevent nearly 28 million new HIV infections and 21 million AIDS-related deaths by that date.

"Every five years we have more than doubled the number of people on life-saving treatment," said Michel Sidibé, executive director of UNAIDS, in a statement. "We need to do it just one more time to break the AIDS epidemic and keep it from rebounding."

The fast-track strategy is the linchpin of UNAIDS 90-90-90 treatment target for 2020. By 2020, UNAIDS aims for 90% of people with HIV to know their status, 90% of people who know their status to be in treatment and 90% of people in treatment to have undetectable viral loads. UNAIDS also hopes to reduce the annual number of new infections to 500,000 by 2020.

"Today, we have more HIV prevention options than ever before. And with better data, we can become better match makers, finding the right prevention options for the right people," said Sidibé.

To ensure the strategy is successful, UNAIDS released the evidence-based report, Focus on Location and Population: On the Fast-Track to End AIDS by 2030, which outlines a series of measures countries have taken to reduce the spread of HIV. These include a heavy financial investment -- $31.1 billion worldwide will be needed by 2020 -- in HIV response as well as shifting treatment resources to areas with a greater need for treatment.

"We mean business," explained Ben Young, M.D., Ph.D., TheBody.com's expert on choosing HIV medication. "We mean, in doing this [fast-track initiative], to end the epidemic of death that has happened and ravaged our planet. ... [I]t's focusing efforts, not by excluding people who might be less crushed by the epidemic, but rather by focusing it where the people are, where there's the greatest burden of disease."

In the report, UNAIDS also provides detailed country data on 29 of the 35 countries it has identified as accounting for 90% of new HIV infections worldwide.

According to a UNAIDS press release:

The report highlights how high-impact HIV prevention and treatment programmes, such as pre-exposure prophylaxis, voluntary medical male circumcision and sexual and reproductive health services, are being successfully implemented in various locations and for different populations, including adolescent girls and young women and their partners, pregnant women living with HIV, sex workers, transgender people, gay men and other men who have sex with men and people who inject drugs.

In addition to highlighting necessary financial and medical measures, the report expresses a need for human rights-based approaches to the HIV response. UNAIDS emphasizes that in order to meet the fast-track targets it is necessary to tackle the stigma, discrimination and other human rights violations faced by people living with HIV and key populations that are at higher risk of HIV infection.

"Everyone has the right to a long and healthy life," said Sidibé. "We must take HIV services to the people who are most affected, and ensure that these services are delivered in a safe, respectful environment with dignity and free from discrimination."

Althea Fung is the community editor for TheBody.com. For her thoughts on the healthcare industry, food and other random musing, check out her personal website, follow her on Twitter or stalk her on Facebook.