There is hope that the fight against AIDS can be won.
Over the last 30 years the disease has killed millions and created millions of orphans.
It’s lasting impact persists in lost human capital and reduced labor productivity (see paper on this here). But if the optimism of the Economist (and they are not known for their love of the bright side of things) is anything to go by, things might be changing for the better.
The 30th anniversary of the disease’s discovery has been taken by many as an occasion for hand-wringing. Yet the war on AIDS is going far better than anyone dared hope. A decade ago, half of the people in several southern African countries were expected to die of AIDS. Now, the death rate is dropping. In 2005 the disease killed 2.1m people. In 2009, the most recent year for which data are available, the number was 1.8m. Some 5m lives have already been saved by drug treatment. In 33 of the worst-affected countries the rate of new infections is down by 25% or more from its peak.
Even more hopeful is a recent study which suggests that the drugs used to treat AIDS may also stop its transmission (see article). If that proves true, the drugs could achieve much of what a vaccine would. The question for the world will no longer be whether it can wipe out the plague, but whether it is prepared to pay the price.