As the world focused its attention on the Covid-19 pandemic, efforts to stop another notorious virus faltered with potentially deadly consequences.
Experts are now warning a relaxation of the fight against HIV/AIDS resulted in a global resurgence in cases, with one of the most significant increases occurring right in Australia’s backyard.
A report released this week showed HIV cases in the Asia Pacific were rising for the first time in a decade.
Titled In Danger, the report showed robust declines in new HIV infections in the Caribbean and western and central Africa – contrast with a historic increase of 260,000 new cases in Asia and the Pacific.
Australian microbiologist and Pacific Friends of Global Health chair, Professor Brendan Crabb, called the report a wake up call.
“While we have all been focused on Covid, HIV/AIDS has sadly bounced back; we need to get on top of this and drive new infections back down,” Professor Crabb said.
“There is no steady state for epidemics. They either expand or contract. So we need to get this epidemic moving back in the right direction.”
The main mechanism responsible for tackling the AIDS epidemic – the Global Fund – is currently aiming to raise at least $US18 billion to get the world back on track towards ending HIV, tuberculosis and malaria.
In 2020, the Global Fund helped 21.9 million people access life-saving antiretroviral therapy for HIV.
So far Australia has donated $961.31 million to the fund, making it the 13th largest government donor globally.
Professor Crabb wants Australia to invest a further $450 million to help save lives in neighbouring countries.
“For every US dollar invested by the Australian Government, the Global Fund partnership has invested approximately 13 dollars in our region,” he said.
“All the tools necessary to end HIV transmission exist. We just need the political and financial commitment.
“If we fail to step up our investments in fighting HIV, we risk surrendering decades of hard-won progress. This will have a profound human impact, devastating the livelihoods and health of hundreds of thousands of people in our region.”
Globally, there were 1.5 million new HIV infections between 2020 and 2021 – three times the international target.
Overall it is just a 3.6 per cent reduction in new cases – the smallest annual drop since 2017.
UNAIDS Executive Director Winnie Byanyima said the global response to the epidemic was in “severe danger”.
“When international support has been most needed, global solidarity has stalled. Leaders must not mistake the huge red warning light for a stop sign. This must become a moment for a surge of international support,” she said.
“We can end AIDS by 2030 as promised – but what it takes is courage.”