The number of Aids cases fell from almost 40 million cases last year to about 33.2 million cases in 2007, global health officials reported Tuesday.
It sounds like a dramatic progress in slowing the virus' spread, but
the decline is mostly just on paper.
Previous estimates were largely inflated. The new numbers have been calculated in a different way, and when scrutinised, they reveal that the Aids pandemic is losing momentum.
A decline in deaths
"For the first time, we are seeing a decline in global Aids deaths,"
said Dr Kevin De Cock, director of the World Health Organization's
On Wednesday, the WHO and the United Nations Aids agency will issue
their annual Aids report, after convening an expert meeting last week
in Geneva to examine their data collection methods.
Much of the global drop in Aids cases is due to revised numbers from
India - which earlier this year slashed its numbers in half, from about
6 million cases to about 3 million - and to new data from several
countries in sub-Saharan Africa.
UN officials could not rule out future downward corrections. In
their assessment of the global Aids epidemic, WHO and UNAIDS experts
reported that there were 2.5 million people newly infected with HIV in
2007. Just a few years ago, that figure was about 5 million.
Previous Aids numbers were largely based on the numbers of infected
pregnant women at antenatal clinics, as well as a projection of the Aids
rates of certain high-risk groups like drug users to the entire
population at risk. Officials said those numbers were flawed, and are
now incorporating more data like national household surveys.
Yet while the global Aids numbers are falling, there are huge
regional differences. Africa remains the epicentre of the epidemic.
Aids is still the leading cause of death here, affecting men,
women and children. Elsewhere in the world, Aids outbreaks are mostly
concentrated in gay men, intravenous drug users and sex workers.
But the UN said progress was being made, and that the global
epidemic peaked in the late 1990s. "There are some encouraging elements
in the data," said De Cock. He said the dropping numbers were proof
that some of the UN's strategies to fight Aids were working.
Not everyone agrees. Some critics have accused the UN of inflating
its Aids numbers, and say the revised figures are long overdue.
"They've finally got caught with their pants down," said Dr Jim Chin,
a clinical professor of epidemiology at the University of California at
Chin is a former WHO staffer and the author of "The AIDS
Pandemic: The Collision of Epidemiology with Political Correctness."
Chin said that it was difficult to tell whether the lowered numbers
were evidence that Aids treatment and prevention strategies were
working, or whether the decrease was just due to a natural correction
of previous overestimates.
Even with the revised figures, "the numbers are probably still on
the high side," said Daniel Halperin, an Aids epidemiologist at the
Harvard School of Public Health. Halperin attended the WHO/UNAIDS
meeting last week that reviewed the figures, and said that the
estimates were getting closer.
But because big numbers in public health translate into more money,
there may be a reluctance among Aids officials to admit that fewer
people are infected than they once thought, since that would cut into
With limited dollars for public health, having good information is
key if the global community is to spend its money on the health issues
that need it most.
"On the one hand, it would be a mistake to radically
decrease funding for HIV," Halperin said. "But on the other hand, why
not put more money into family planning or climate change?"
Other experts said that even with the decreased figures, much more
is needed to stop the Aids pandemic.
"We are still failing to respond to the crisis," said Dr Paul
Zeitz, executive director of the Global Aids Alliance.
prevalence of Aids may have stabilised, but we are still seeing
millions of new infections and it is not time yet to step back from
this battle." – (Sapa-AP)