For the first time in the global AIDS epidemic that has spanned four decades and killed 35 million people, more than half of all those infected with HIV are on drugs to treat the virus, the UN said Thursday. AIDS deaths are also now close to half of what they were in 2005, according to the UN AIDS agency, although those figures are based on estimates and not actual counts from countries. According to the report, about 19.5 million people with HIV were taking AIDS drugs in 2016, per the AP. About 36.7 million people had HIV last year, up slightly from 36.1 million in 2015, meaning 53% were taking drugs. AIDS deaths, meanwhile, fell to 1 million from the high of 1.9 million in 2005, reports the BBC.
Experts applauded the progress, but questioned if the billions spent in the past two decades should have brought more impressive results. The UN report was released in Paris where an AIDS meeting begins this weekend. "When you think about the money that's been spent on AIDS, it could have been better," said Sophie Harman, a senior lecturer in global health politics at Queen Mary University in London. "The real test will come in five to 10 years once the funding goes down," Harman said, warning that countries might not be able to sustain the UN-funded AIDS programs on their own. The Trump administration has proposed a 31% cut in contributions to the UN starting in October.