The United States has announced a plan to significantly reduce the global spread of AIDS. Advances in research and treatment of the disease has many officials feeling hopeful.
According to the United Nations, about 34 million people worldwide are living with HIV, and 2.5 million were infected last year alone. In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control says there is an alarming rise in the spread of HIV among teenagers and young adults, with 1,000 new infections each month. Yet public officials and health care workers say the world is nearing a turning point on AIDS, the disease caused by the HIV virus.
In advance of World AIDS Day [December 1, 2012], U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton outlined a plan calling for global efforts toward improving treatment and preventing the spread of HIV.
"We can reach a point where virtually no children are born with the virus. And as these children become teenagers and adults, they are at a far lower risk of becoming infected than they are today," said Clinton.
Key finds spur treatment
Dr. Anthony Fauci, who heads AIDS research at the U.S. National Institutes of Health, said medical advances have made the difference.
"Right now, we're in a very interesting position where we have the tools and the wherewithal to have a major impact on turning around the trajectory of the AIDS pandemic," said Fauci.
One of the tools involves treating people early in their infection, before they get sick. This allows those with HIV to lead productive lives. And studies show it dramatically reduces the odds that they will infect a sexual partner.
"There used to be a tension between the [financial] resources that you put in for treatment versus the [financial] resources you put in for prevention. Right now, we know that treatment is actually a form of prevention," said Fauci.
Education and testing
But for every person who receives treatment, two more become infected. Only about 8 million HIV patients in developing countries are receiving treatment. The United Nations' goal is to have 15 million people receiving treatment by 2015.
But experts say that testing and education also are crucial. The CDC recommends routine testing for everyone.
Dr. Jonathan Mermin of the Centers for Disease Control spoke to VOA via Skype. "HIV testing should be as common as cholesterol screening," he said.
As for the steep rise in HIV infections among young people in the United States, the CDC says doctors, teachers and parents need to ensure that young people receive information about HIV and AIDS, and that they get tested and treated if they have the disease.