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GLOBAL: Mortality data reveals HIV treatment progress

Johannesburg, 30 April 2010 (IRIN) - A new study of adult mortality tells the tale of HIV over decades and across borders and how treatment may have helped to rewrite the ending.

Published in The Lancet’s 30 April early online edition, the study compares adult mortality between 1970 and 2010 in 187 countries.

Using data from various sources, including censuses and household surveys, researchers found that HIV was key to reversing the worldwide decline in mortality from 1970 to 1990.

Even though worldwide mortality is still about 26 percent lower than it was 40 years ago, there are regional imbalances. In sub-Saharan Africa, hard hit by HIV, mortality is at levels not seen in developed countries such as Sweden since the 1700s.

But study co-author Christopher Murray of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington said that while the data bore testament to HIV’s devastating impact, it also revealed a story of hope that was only just beginning to emerge.

“To give you a sense of the impact of HIV, we analysed maternal mortality numbers for all countries in the world and were able to show that 20 percent of all maternal deaths could have been avoided if HIV had not been a factor,” he told IRIN/PlusNews. “An emerging public health success story is the scale-up of antiretroviral [ARV] therapies in Africa, [which] seems to be one of the drivers in the declines in mortality that we have seen in many countries there since 2005.”

According to Murray, the data reinforces arguments for mainstreaming ARV treatment and services aimed at preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV within maternal health programmes.

However, the study also found that gaps between countries with high mortality rates, such as Zambia and Swaziland, and those with low rates, such as Iceland, continue to widen.

According to UNAIDS, Zambia has an HIV prevalence of about 15 percent while Swaziland has the world’s highest HIV prevalence at 26 percent.

“AIDS continues to be a big problem, despite the improvements there. This is why it is so important for countries to monitor where they are making progress and see what they can do to improve on that progress,” Murray added.

There was a need to improve adult mortality monitoring with better data collection to track not only the impact of HIV but also chronic diseases such as diabetes, alcoholism and heart disease that are emerging as income rises in more countries, he said.

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Theme (s): HIV/AIDS (PlusNews),

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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