Volunteers lay out the AIDS Quilt on the National Mall.
Credit: Karen Bleier
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The goal of an “AIDS-free generation” has become a little more realistic, according to the 2012 World AIDS Day report released on November 20 by UNAIDS.

The report, titled “Results," found that between 2001 and 2011, HIV incidence in 25 countries declined by more than 50 percent and decreased by 20 percent worldwide. Since 2005, the number of AIDS-related deaths has declined by almost one-third.

Much of this improvement is concentrated in Africa, which is more severely affected by the epidemic than any other continent. Since 2001, the report found, new HIV infections have decreased by 73 percent in Malawi, 50 percent in Zimbabwe, and 41 percent in South Africa and Swaziland.

“The pace of progress is quickening,” said Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of UNAIDS, in a press release. “What used to take a decade is now being achieved in 24 months.”

The 2012 International AIDS Conference in July marked some of the first real conversations about beginning to end the epidemic, and Chris Collins, vice president and director of public policy at amfAR, pointed to the beginning of the end of AIDS as one of the conference’s biggest takeaways. Now the question is, he said, how to accomplish this goal and assess our progress in a concrete way.

“I think the tremendous hope that the conference communicated to people has really become a challenge,” he said. “The months following the conference, I've been really happy to see a lot of different groups … asking, how do we realize that potential for the world?”

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“Results” is one of a few recent reports with the goal of assessing the world’s progress. Other organizations have also made an effort to quantify results and raise accountability. AVAC and amfAR, for example, launched a joint quarterly progress report series earlier this month. While their report cited achievements similar to those touted by UNAIDS, it also added a note of caution, stating that “overall progress remains too slow.” The report said, “The opportunity to move toward the epidemic’s ‘end game’ is real, but we’ll need to ‘up our game’ if we hope to get there.”

The UNAIDS report also cites some missteps in progress and room for improvement.

Although several African countries have dramatically cut their HIV incidence rate, still, almost 70 percent of those who are HIV-positive are in Africa. Additionally, the number of new HIV infections in the Middle East and North Africa has increased by 35 percent in the last decade. And in nine countries, HIV incidence rates have risen by at least 25 percent since 2001.

Like the AVAC and amfAR report, “Results” also cautions, “to reach most of the [2011 UN Political Declaration on HIV/AIDS] targets by 2015, significant additional effort is required.”

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