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Health

UNAIDS sees progress in Africa

As World Aids Day is marked on December 1, the United Nations says the number of new HIV infections is continuing to fall. In sub-Saharan Africa they dropped by a quarter between 2001 and 2011.

Despite the huge success of anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs in cutting the rate of HIV transmission from pregnant women to their unborn babies, and in helping to prolong the lives of HIV sufferers, the disease still claims 1.7 million lives a year across the globe. 79 percent of all people with HIV live in sub-Saharan Africa.

DW: Tim Martineau, there is a vision of an AIDS-free generation in which almost no child is born with HIV and those who do contract the virus get swift access to medical treatment. How close is Africa to making that vision reality?

Tim Martineau: We believe there's a very great potential and opportunity for the world and sub-Saharan Africa to achieve the high-level targets that were agreed by member states in 2010 and to really achieve the targets by 2015. In that sense we believe it is achievable to have a world without AIDS, certainly a response that is more effectively managed, with people receiving more quality treatment and care.

In what areas and in which African countries has substantial progress been made in the fight against AIDS over the last 12 months?

To start with, I think there's been fantastic progress everywhere.

A red AIDS ribbon lies on a pile of banknotes +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++

The global economic situation also affects financing of anti-AIDS programs

What's strongest is the response in a number of eastern and southern African countries where the epidemic is perhaps at its greatest. Malawi has seen a 72 percent change in incidence, Zambia 58 percent, Namibia 68 percent. Ethiopia has seen a 90 percent decline and South Africa, the country with the biggest epidemic in the world, has seen a decline of 41 percent and there's been a rapidly expanding response there with the new commitment in that country.

For a child born today in sub-Saharan Africa with HIV, what are the chances of that child surviving into adulthood?

There's the risk from HIV and there's the risk from other health problems. The issue in sub-Saharan Africa is that there is still a substantial number of children born every year with HIV. But there has been a fall by 24 per cent of the total number of children being born with HIV. There are still more than 300,000 born globally with HIV as a consequence of parental transmission.

How much of a problem is funding as donor countries grapple with their own financial and economic issues?

We have been concerned about the economic environment and its impact upon global commitments to HIV. There was an initial dip two years ago but I'm very pleased to see that there is at least a sustained reponse from donors and obviously we're keeping a very close eye on that.

What about funding irregularities, misuse of funds? How big an issue is this in Africa?

That's always a challenge.I wouldn't want to call it just an African problem, I think it's a global problem.

Close up of colorful condoms against a white background
© Sergejs Rahunoks

The use of condoms is increasing

We obviously need to manage resources as effectively and as carefully as possible. There are issues of capacity, there are also issues of accountability and one of the key things we think is very important is an effective accountability mechanism that involves a broad participation by stakeholders to monitor the response and the effective use of resources.

Do people generally know more about the disease than they did five or ten years ago or are there still people who think it doesn't concern them?

There is always room to improve those figures.They are better, there is better use of condoms, there are people having fewer partners but we would still like to see more people being tested at an early stage so that they are aware of their status and can access treatment. So generally there's an overall improvement but still lots of room for improvement.

Tim Martineau is the Chief of Staff with UNAIDS in Geneva

Interview: Mark Caldwell

DW.DE