On Tuesday, November 20, 2007 UNAIDS and the World Health Organization released a joint report revising their global HIV/AIDS estimates based on improved methods of evaluating data. While the new interpretation has resulted in a 16% reduction in the estimated number of people living with HIV/AIDS worldwide, the severity and implications of the pandemic have not changed.1
Currently, it is estimated that 33.2 million people are living with HIV/AIDS worldwide, compared to 39.5 million estimated in 2006. Angola, India, Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria, and Zimbabwe contributed to 70% of the difference in estimates. The changes in these countries are in part the result of improved reporting systems but also reflect a decrease in the number of new infections due to a reduction of risky behaviors. The largest single factor that contributed to the change of global estimates was a revision of India’s HIV/AIDS data. An intensive assessment of India’s epidemic reduced the estimated number of people living with HIV/AIDS in that country from 5.7 million to 2.5 million.2 “These improved data present us with a clearer picture of the AIDS epidemic, one that reveals both challenges and opportunities,” UNAIDS Executive Director Dr. Peter Piot said in a statement. “Unquestionably, we are beginning to see a return on investment —new HIV infections and mortality are declining and the prevalence of HIV leveling.”3
Despite the lower incidence numbers in the revised data, the report confirmed that HIV/AIDS continues to be a huge public health crisis. Every day over 6,800 people become infected with HIV and over 5,700 people die from AIDS. Evidence also shows that infection rates are beginning to rise in some developed nations where people have become complacent because of widespread access to anti-retroviral treatment.4 “We are seeing a return of the epidemic,” said Paul De Lay of UNAIDS. “We are seeing that in the U.S., we are seeing that in the U.K., we are seeing that in Germany and we are seeing that in the developing world also.”5
This report came on the heels of an earlier report released by UNAIDS outlining the financial resources that would be needed to ensure universal access to prevention, care, and treatment. There was some confusion about whether the report showing lower incidence numbers would affect the financial calculations of the earlier report. UNAIDS says it considered the revised interpretation of the data when it released its financial needs assessment in September on the need for increased HIV/AIDS funding, but the figures should be decreased by 5% to fully reflect the new information. “We are talking about a small reduction in the resource need for 2010,” said Dr. Paul Zeitz, Executive Director of the Global AIDS Alliance. “[The] report is a welcome correction, but it does not mean previous calls for funding or for faster action were ‘alarmist.’ The epicenter of this crisis is still in Africa, and the lives of people there matter. We still need to see effective programs get the funding they need to stop the dying.”6
“Accurate assessments of the epidemic are particularly timely given the pending reauthorization of PEPFAR,” appraised William Smith, vice president for public policy at SIECUS, “Now, more than ever we need to turn our efforts to implementing effective, evidence-based prevention efforts to ensure the decline of global HIV/AIDS incidence numbers.”
- 2007 AIDS Epidemic Update (Geneva: UNAIDS, 2007), 1-10, accessed 29 November 2007,
- Maggie Fox, “UN Slashes AIDS Estimates in Latest Report,” The Washington Post, 20 November, 2007, accessed 29 November 2007,
- AIDS Update, UNAIDS.
- Michael Kahn, “UN Warns AIDS could Spike if Countries Drop Guard,” The Washington Post, 20 November 2007, accessed 29 November 2007,
- Global AIDS Alliance, “AIDS Remains Leading Cause of Death in Africa, UN says,” Response to Report, published 20 November 2007, accessed 29 November 2007, <http://www.globalaidsalliance.org/newsroom/press_releases/press112007/>.