01 December 2013 - Geneva - There is much to celebrate this World AIDS Day. In AIDS by the numbers, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) reports that there has been a 33% decrease in new HIV infections since 2001. There has also been a 29% decrease in AIDS-related deaths since 2005.
This is remarkable progress. Thanks to concerted efforts to stop HIV transmission and halt AIDS-deaths, the world can now talk about ending the AIDS epidemic.
This is great news for the fight against TB. People living with HIV have an estimated 20 to 30 times greater risk of developing active TB once infected, so progress against HIV clearly translates into progress against TB.
But does this mean that we are also looking at the end of the TB epidemic? Sadly not, as at the current level of ambition and rate of progress the number of people getting ill with TB each year is only dropping at an annual rate of 2%, meaning that we will still be fighting TB in the year 2190. And while TB/HIV deaths have been declining since 2001, UNAIDS reports that the rate of decline is leveling off.
Much though we would prefer to report better news, the fact is that TB is still the leading killer of people with HIV, accounting for 320 000 AIDS-related deaths in 2012. It is becoming clearer and clearer that unless we speed up progress against TB, the disease will continue to delay progress against HIV/AIDS. The situation is particularly acute in Africa, where TB/HIV co-infection rates reach 70% in some countries. This is one of the reasons why the region is not on track to achieve the 2015 targets for reductions in mortality.
What makes this unacceptable is the fact that TB is curable in the vast majority of cases, and with drugs that cost as little as US $30 per person for an entire course of treatment.
We can and must accelerate progress. The first step is to ensure that TB and TB/HIV programmes are adequately funded. This World AIDS Day falls just before one of the most important events of the year, the Global Fund Replenishment Conference. The Global Fund is targeting US $15 billion for its 2014-16 programmes and we hope that governments will step forward with the pledges required to meet this target.
We need to scale up integrated TB/HIV programmes and joint TB and HIV programming. Getting ART to everyone with TB who is HIV positive is a must. We must also scale up simple interventions, like testing everyone who has TB for HIV and providing preventative TB treatment to people with HIV.
Lastly, and most importantly, we need to remember that it is people, families and friends - most often among the poorest, most vulnerable communities - that are facing up to TB and HIV on a daily basis.
As we take stock in the year 2013, I think that these people have suffered enough pain, discrimination and stigma at the hands of both diseases. And I think we have had enough conversations that focus only on one or the other of these two terrible diseases.
So my challenge this World AIDS Day is for all of us to think first and foremost of these people that we serve, and call with one voice for zero AIDS deaths and infections and zero TB deaths and infections.