Christian Leaders Welcome Global AIDS Drop; Urge More Commitment

Figures released this week by the World Health Organization and the United Nations AIDS agency showed a slight decline in the number of people living with HIV worldwide.

While churches and Christian NGOs welcomed the news, they say there is still much to be done.

"We welcome any indication that fewer people are living with HIV, whether it is through more accurate statistics or because a strong response in some areas is making a positive impact," said Linda Hartke, coordinator of the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance.

"But in no way can we relax our efforts. HIV remains a devastating disease not just for individuals, but for families, communities and nations," she said.

According to the latest figures revised by WHO and UNAIDS, the number of AIDS cases fell from almost 40 million cases last year to about 33.2 million cases in 2007. Furthermore, there were approximately 2.5 million adults and children newly infected with HIV and about 2.1 million who lost their lives due to the illness in 2007. Just a few years ago, the number of newly infected people was about 5 million.

Numbers of people living with the virus are leveling out and the percentage of the population affected is now in decline, the report claimed.

The Rev. Dr. Hielke Wolters, director of Justice, Diakonia and Responsibility for Creation for the World Council of Churches, said he was encouraged that more accurate figures "will help the world to plan, mobilize resources and implement actions more effectively to overcome HIV."

"These reductions in estimates cannot lower our commitment and our focus to overcome this preventable and treatable disease," he added.

Every day in 2007, more than 6,800 people were infected with HIV. Women made up half of those infected. Over 5,700 died from it everyday.

"So many lives lost due to AIDS is really a concern. What's worse, over two-thirds of those infected in India don't know they are HIV positive," said Dr. Dennis Broun, UNAIDS chief in India.

WHO and UNAIDS issued their annual AIDS report on Wednesday, after convening an expert meeting last week in Geneva to examine their data collection methods.

According to the report, much of the global drop in AIDS cases is due to revised numbers from India — which earlier this year slashed its numbers in half, from about 6 million cases to about 3 million — and to new data from several countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

The new report was released less than two weeks before World AIDS Day, which falls each year on Dec. 1. The theme this year is "Stop AIDS. Keep the Promise – Leadership."