A Question On #WorldAidsDay: Why Can't We Bring Down The Number Of New HIV Cases? : Goats and Soda Despite progress against the disease, roughly 2 million people are infected with the virus every year.
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Why Can't We Bring Down The Number Of New HIV Cases?

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Why Can't We Bring Down The Number Of New HIV Cases?

Why Can't We Bring Down The Number Of New HIV Cases?

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Today is December 1, World AIDS Day. The event was first held 28 years ago to raise awareness for HIV and AIDS at a time when a diagnosis was considered a death sentence. A lot has changed since 1988. Now HIV/AIDS is considered manageable, but it remains a major health problem around the world. NPR's global health correspondent Jason Beaubien joins me to talk more about it. Hi there, Jason.

JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: Hello.

CORNISH: So if we look at HIV now compared to that first World AIDS Day, there's been incredible progress. Describe the state of things.

BEAUBIEN: It really is this interesting moment. On the one hand, you do have this incredible progress. Many people are able to survive now. You've pretty much wiped out transmission from mothers to child of the virus inside the womb. And that's not just in Europe but also in, you know, many parts of Africa.

The problem is, you continue to have about 2 million new infections every year. It sort of peaked in about 1997. You had about three and a half million new infections. It's gotten down to 2 million. But then it's just sort of hit this floor, and it just hasn't gotten below that. And most of those infections are happening in impoverished parts of Africa, so it continues to be a big problem.

CORNISH: So given that, is it possible to meet the U.N. goal, right? The United Nations has said it wants to see the end of AIDS by 2030.

BEAUBIEN: I mean you're not going to get this genie back in the bottle, basically. It is something that people believe they can get the numbers of cases significantly lower, but people worry now that there's a lack of urgency to actually do that. You've got other diseases that are competing for attention. You've got other global health problems. You've got wars and refugees.

And there's a lot of concern that without some renewed urgency, that this threat is just going to continue. You're going to have this health problem that's just going to kind of go on for decades and decades to come.

CORNISH: All right, so there's the lack of urgency. What are the other I guess big barriers out there to wiping out HIV?

BEAUBIEN: So the big barrier is just stopping transmission. You know, this 2 million infections every year is a huge problem. And most of that is sexual spread. Also, injection drug use continues to be the other big source of transmission. There's work on vaccines. There is no cure really on the horizon.

But ultimately, this does come down to changing people's behavior - giving them condoms, the tools, the social skills they need to keep from getting infected. And that has turned out to be a huge cultural and logistical challenge.

CORNISH: You know, to bring this home a bit, the U.S. has played a big role in combating HIV/AIDS around the world. What do we know about this next administration? Under Donald Trump, what happens to those efforts?

BEAUBIEN: We really don't know, and that is the big question that's hanging out there right now amongst people who are in the HIV/AIDS world. The U.S. has been the largest funder to global efforts to fight AIDS and HIV around the world - billions of dollars to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria and then PEPFAR, the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief that George W. Bush put together in 2003. Those two together have really been credited with turning this epidemic around, particularly in Africa. I talked yesterday with the head of PEPFAR, Deborah Birx.

DEBORAH BIRX: Frankly, now this administration, the new administration, will be the administration that if we're able to continue on and focus and do what we need to do, this will be the president that will have the ability to say, we controlled the epidemic in these 10 or 15 countries that were the highest burden.

BEAUBIEN: And those are countries in Africa that have had incredibly high rates of HIV - you know, above 20 percent of the population infected. And she says she believes that this is going to be the type of program that the Trump administration will want to continue to fund.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Jason Beaubien. Jason, thank you.

BEAUBIEN: You're welcome.

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