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In the last decade, the number of people receiving life-saving treatment has nearly quadrupled in the region

Washington, D.C., 27 November 2014 (PAHO/WHO) — Nearly 600,000 more people today than in 2003 are receiving antiretroviral treatment for HIV in Latin America and the Caribbean, according to data released by the Pan American Health Organization/World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) in the lead-up to World AIDS Day, December 1.

PAHO's theme for World AIDS Day this year is "Close the gap — for an AIDS-free generation." The goal is to bridge the gap between people who have access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support services and those who are being left behind.

"Over the past decade, countries in Latin America and the Caribbean have increased access to health services needed by people with HIV, including medicines," said PAHO Director Carissa F. Etienne. "Controlling the epidemic by 2030 would be possible if countries implement a combined prevention strategy and if everyone knows their HIV status, gets the treatment they need, and live free of stigma and discrimination."

The 2014 PAHO/WHO report Antiretroviral Treatment in the Spotlight: A Public Health Analysis in Latin America and the Caribbean reveals that the number of people receiving antiretroviral treatment in Latin America and the Caribbean increased from an estimated 210,000 in 2003 to 795,000 in 2013, representing 56% of those who need treatment and 44% of all people with HIV.

"We still face a gap that we urgently need to close," said PAHO Director Etienne. "The challenge now is to make further progress and ensure we do not backslide on our achievements so far."

In 2013, 106,000 people became newly infected with HIV in Latin America and the Caribbean, 9% less than in 2003. New infections could be reduced even more through the implementation of a prevention strategy that combines evidence-based services and interventions based on the needs of those they serve. These interventions range from the distribution of condoms and information on HIV to offering HIV testing and timely treatment, among others.

Just as new infections have declined, so are HIV deaths. Last year, 58,000 people in the region died from HIV, a 40% decline since 2003.

"Timely treatment is fundamental for saving the lives of people who contract HIV and to prevent transmission to others. Providing testing and counseling together is a crucial strategy to link people who have the virus with comprehensive healthcare services," said Massimo Ghidinelli, chief of PAHO/WHO's HIV/AIDS, STI and Hepatitis Unit. "Simplifying treatment regimens can help reduce the emergence of resistance and adverse side effects and help keep medications effective."

The number of mothers receiving treatment also increased significantly, according to preliminary data from PAHO/WHO and UNICEF. In 2010, fewer than 59% of pregnant women with HIV received treatment. In 2013, this proportion reached 93%, close to the 95% target adopted by the region's countries for 2015.

The proportion of children 14 and under with HIV who are receiving treatment reached 51% last year. Some 52,000 children in the region are believed to be living with the virus.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, 3 in 10 people with HIV are unaware that they have the virus, and 35% of new cases are diagnosed late, impeding timely treatment. The new PAHO/WHO report is the region's first to present this type of data.

PAHO/WHO supports the region's countries in updating care and treatment guidelines for HIV based on new WHO recommendations and the latest scientific evidence, and also helps countries optimize the rational use of antiretroviral medications. This contributes to improving the effectiveness of treatment and advances the regional goal of reaching 90% viral suppression in people under treatment by 2020.

World AIDS Day is observed each December 1 to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS. It provides an opportunity to disseminate information and stimulate progress in prevention, treatment and care for people with HIV in countries with high prevalence and throughout the world.