UNAIDS Discusses Global HIV/AIDS Estimates Following Release of Report
At a news conference on Tuesday following the release of its annual report, UNAIDS denied accusations "that it had inflated estimates for years in an alarmist effort to raise funds," the New York Times reports (McNeil, New York Times, 11/21).
UNAIDS and the World Health Organization in the report lowered their estimates of how many people are living with HIV/AIDS worldwide. According to the report, about 33 million people worldwide are living with HIV/AIDS, compared with an estimate of nearly 40 million in 2006. The U.N. bodies said that better methods of data collection and increased data availability from countries show that HIV/AIDS is not quite as widespread as previously thought (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 11/20).
According to the Times, charges of inflated estimates are "not an uncommon grumble in the heavily politicized" fight against the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Paul De Lay, UNAIDS director of monitoring and policy, said that because the organization's mission is to provide advice and monitor trends, its budget is not affected by the recent influx of funds to purchase drugs and conduct vaccine research. In addition, De Lay said that "cooking this data would be almost impossible" because they come from national health ministries and are overseen by several agencies.
Kevin De Cock, director of the HIV/AIDS Department at WHO, said that it was not certain before late 2003 that previous estimates likely were too high. He added that the largest decrease in global estimates was seen in India, which released its revised caseload estimate in July.
According to the Times, UNAIDS now estimates that an HIV-positive person with no access to antiretroviral drugs will survive for an average of 11 years, compared with previous estimates of nine years. Peter Ghys, chief of epidemiology for UNAIDS, said that the former life-expectancy estimate was based on a study conducted in Uganda in the 1990s. The new estimate is based on unpublished studies in Haiti, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Thailand and Uganda, Ghys said, adding that the studies are scheduled to be released soon.
According to Ghys, because prevalence estimates are determined by surveys, a higher life-expectancy estimate lowers approximations about how many people newly contract HIV annually. Based on that data, UNAIDS concluded that the number of new HIV cases worldwide peaked between 1997 and 2001, the Times reports. Ghys added that the new life-expectancy estimate does not dramatically change the new estimate of the number of people living with the virus worldwide (New York Times, 11/21).
Three broadcast programs recently reported on the report. Summaries appear below.
CNN: The segment includes comments from De Lay and Edwin Cameron, a South African judge and HIV/AIDS advocate (Curnow, CNN, 11/20). Video of the segment is available online. In addition, CNN's "Your World Today" on Tuesday included a discussion with CNN South Africa correspondent Robin Curnow about the new estimates (Clancy, "Your World Today," CNN, 11/20). A transcript of the complete program is available online.
- NPR's "All Things Considered": The segment includes comments from De Lay; James Chin, professor emeritus of epidemiology at the University of California-Berkeley; and De Cock (Wilson, "All Things Considered," NPR, 11/20). Audio of the segment is available online.
- NPR's "Day to Day": The segment includes a discussion with Karen Stanecki, UNAIDS senior adviser on demographics, about the report (Brand, "Day to Day," NPR, 11/20). Audio of the segment is available online.
A fact sheet from the Kaiser Family Foundation on the global HIV/AIDS epidemic includes the latest data from UNAIDS. This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.