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On World Health Day: Global Effort Necessary To End HIV/AIDS

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This year's World Health Day is once again bringing into focus the dire need to continue worldwide efforts to combat HIV and AIDS infections in underprivileged countries.

In sub-Saharan Africa, there are currently 1.8 million children living with HIV, with 400 new reports of HIV infections every day. Another 1.5 million HIV-positive women become pregnant annually.

Statistics show that only half of pediatric HIV cases have access to life-saving antiretroviral treatment. AIDS remains the leading cause of death among children and adolescents in this part of the world.

In view of this, health organizations call for even more sustained endeavors to carry on the progress already made by the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR, launched in 2003), the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, as well as other partnering groups.

PEPFAR Foreign Assistance Program

In its 15-year activity, PEPFAR has already achieved a significant decrease in HIV/AIDS-related mortality and morbidity, reducing the number of new pediatric infections worldwide by roughly 70 percent.

Thanks to large investments by the U.S. government in the sum of nearly $2 billion, as well as a strong partnership with the private sector, this foreign assistance program has provided treatment for millions of people in countries that in the early 2000s had no means to suppress HIV.

According to a PEPFAR news release, the program presently supplies antiretroviral therapy for approximately 11.5 million people in the most affected countries, 50 percent more than in 2014.

The PEPFAR continuous support has resulted in nearly 2 million babies being born HIV-free to pregnant women living with HIV - almost double the number reported in 2013. The program also provides assistance to around 6.2 million orphans, vulnerable children, and their caregivers.

"These investments are paying impressive dividends," says U.S. Special Representative for Global Health Diplomacy Deborah Birx, pointing out that "recent Public Health Impact Assessments in three African countries show that the HIV/AIDS epidemic is becoming controlled there."

"Evidence suggests that we are poised to control the epidemic in 10 African countries over the next four years," Birx continues, citing 2016 data.

Commitment To Saving Lives

Through U.S. funding and the help of nongovernmental organizations, PEPFAR has enabled access to life-saving care, to services that prevent HIV transmission from mother to child, and to surveillance and health information systems across Africa.

The program's activity is focused on dispensing treatment, as well as building a health infrastructure that can successfully neutralize HIV strains. By investing in laboratories and highly trained specialists, PEPFAR has enabled clinicians to better diagnose and treat HIV infections, qualifying approximately 220,000 health care workers to deliver targeted care and generalized health assistance.

Maintaining the program's funding is critical, states National Review, since it could soon lead to a historic public health achievement: the end of the AIDS epidemic for an entire generation of children.

Global efforts are needed to persist with the noteworthy advancements in the battle against HIV/AIDS made possible by the program, which - as Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson remarked after a visit in Africa - "exists entirely because of a willing leader, a creative policy team, a smattering of activists, and a vast, bleeding need."

"Investing in the well-being of our partner countries not only saves lives, but also enhances global public health and security. In our interconnected world, there is no better investment," concludes Birx.

'UN AIDS 90-90-90' Campaign

PEPFAR's actions are also supported by the United Nations, which vowed to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030 and is currently promoting a global anti-HIV campaign.

Called "UN AIDS 90-90-90," the campaign aims to ensure that 90 percent of people living with HIV have access to sustained antiretroviral medication, 90 percent of treated patients are virally suppressed, and 90 percent of all people diagnosed with HIV have complete adherence to therapy.

A study recently published in the Journal of the International AIDS Society details only around 60 percent of HIV patients are in active treatment. Adherence to therapy is affected by many factors, explains Specialty Pharmacy Times, and typically reduces as treatment duration increases.

The research, by Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, provides insight on expert interventions that have the potential of reaching mass populations.

The scientists advise one way of making sure patients keep to their treatment is through electronic pharmacy refill tracking systems. Their recommendation is to collect data from these systems in order to design specific interventions that encourage adherence.

This method could enable health care providers to reach out to patients who miss a refill, and also determine the causes of nonadherence so that it can be curbed.

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