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In many ways, I felt the same sense of (admittedly nerdy) excitement today as I pored over the new global AIDS data released by UNAIDS. Last week, I blogged about their new AIDS data for sub-Saharan Africa, which was the Christmas Eve teaser of data releases—cause for optimism, but just the start of the information soon to come.

And now that the global data is here, we know that the news is, on the whole, incredible: more than 8 million people in need are able to access antiretroviral treatment, up from just 300,000 in 2002 and up from 6.6 million just one year ago.

Framed another way, more than half (54 percent) of people in need of treatment globally are now receiving it. That’s a major milestone, and one that was perhaps inconceivable just a decade ago.

The good news continues from there:

Of the estimated 1.5 million pregnant women living with HIV in low- and middle-income countries in 2011, 57 percent received effective antiretroviral drugs to prevent transmission of HIV to their children –- up from 48 percent in 2010. This scale-up in access to treatment means that in 2011, there were 330,000 new pediatric HIV infections, down from 390,000 in 2010. Though we still have a ways to go, the data signals that progress is happening and that the virtual elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV is possible.

There were 1.7 million AIDS-related deaths globally in 2011, and declining death rates meant that there were more people living with HIV in 2011 than ever before: 34.2 million globally, up from 33 million in 2010.

Our collective investment in treatment is paying off and saving lives: antiretroviral therapy has added 14 million life-years in low- and middle-income countries globally since 1995, with more than 9 million of these in sub-Saharan Africa.

From a financing perspective, even in the middle of a global economic downturn, the news is also largely good: global investments in HIV totaled roughly $16.8 billion in 2011, up 11 percent from 2010. And the story is not just about rich countries paying for treatment any longer. Low-and middle-income countries are steadily increasing their domestic investment in AIDS, reaching an estimated $8.6 billion in 2011 –- the highest amount ever.

In fact, as of 2011, 56 of 99 middle-income countries are funding more than half of their AIDS responses themselves—a needed and positive sign of shared responsibility for financing the response to this pandemic.

This good news should not allow us to feel complacent, because the report also highlights areas where progress is insufficient. In particular, there were 2.5 million new HIV infections globally in 2011, making new infections one of the few indicators that has not declined much since 2010 and that is far off track from global targets.

There is no way we will see the beginning of the end of AIDS until we can become far more effective in driving down rates of new infections (one of the three key policy objectives of our ongoing campaign), including among women, men who have sex with men, and other marginalized populations.

From a financing perspective, we still also need a greater sense of burden sharing, for the US continued to provide 48 percent of all international assistance for the global HIV response in 2011. We need other governments—from Europe, emerging economies, and African countries alike—to step up and provide the targeted investments needed to achieve the targets agreed upon by all at last year’s UN High-Level Session on AIDS.

Still, at a time when bad news tends to be the norm, we should pause to reflect on this new data and all the progress it represents. These new numbers should motivate us to keep up our fight and challenge us to believe in not just the control but the end of this pandemic.

For those of us who consider ourselves AIDS advocates, Christmas has come early.


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