THE world’s largest global AIDS orga-nization has openly questioned the claim by the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) that 17 million people worldwide are now on anti-retroviral treatment (ART), saying that the number might be an exaggeration.
The AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), which provides health services for an estimated 600,000 HIV and AIDS patients in 36 countries, called on UNAIDS to provide more transparency in the data, assumptions, and methods the UN body uses to make estimates of the number of people receiving ART worldwide.
The statement was made in reaction to research published in the British medical journal The Lancet, which suggested that some of UNAID’s estimates could differ from the number of actual treatment beneficiaries by a wide margin.
At the UN High Level Meeting on AIDS in New York in June, UNAIDS announced that two million more people were receiving ART this year than last year, which raised the estimated number of people on treatment to 17 million.
The study published in The Lancet was conducted by an independent research body call the Group on Burden of Disease (GDB), and in their own research found large differences with UNAIDS data in some areas.
For example, in 2014 UNAIDS estimated a much faster rate of decline in annual new infections than GBD’s research found. Globally, a 2015 GBD report estimated about 2.5 million new infections in 2014, whereas UNAIDS estimated about 2 million for the same time period. A more dramatic case was in Kenya, where results from GBD showed an increase in annual new infections from 60,000 in 2005 to 146,700 in 2014, whereas UNAIDS showed a decrease from 73,000 to 56,000 during the same period year.
AHF Associate Director of Global Policy Denys Nazarov said that with respect to treatment coverage rates, there needs to be stricter adherence to the Guidelines for Accurate and Transparent Health Estimates Reporting (GATHER), which were developed by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Referring to the conflicting data from Kenya, Nazarov said, “Since we have HIV services in Kenya, who should we believe? I think the responsibility for full transparency needs to come from UNAIDS.”
AHF Global Public Health Ambassador Jorge Saavedra, formerly head of the National AIDS Program of Mexico, explained where some of the discrepancies in data on the number of people being treated might arise. For example, some estimates are based on the procurement of medicines, without necessarily confirming whether those are actually distributed to patients.
“On the other hand, when big countries like Nigeria, India or Russia among others, do not release their full data, UNAIDS should embrace its leadership role and fully release all the assumptions used in order to estimate those numbers,” Saavedra added.
“UNAIDS needs to be accountable to the entire international community and not just to governments and donors,” said Michael Weinstein, AHF President. “Right now, it is not clear that a site-by-site audit inside a country would produce the same numbers as what is being reported by UNAIDS. Some countries do not provide the numbers, or do not have the numbers, therefore UNAIDS estimates are based on multiple layers of assumptions. They end up with numbers that are sometimes difficult to believe, but that definitely portray an optimistic view of the progress in the war on AIDS.”
Here in the Philippines, the Department of Health (DOH) reported that 841 new cases of HIV infection – the highest monthly total since tracking began in 2004 – were recorded in June, a nine percent rise from the 772 new cases in the same month a year earlier.