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Global Health Challenges: HIV, Hepatitis, and Sexually Transmitted Infections

According to a new report by the World Health Organization (WHO), HIV, viral hepatitis, and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) continue to pose significant public health threats, resulting in 2.5 million deaths each year. The report, Implementing the global health sector strategies on HIV, viral hepatitis and sexually transmitted infections, 2022–2030, highlights the challenges in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030 due to the insufficient decline in new HIV and viral hepatitis infections and the rising incidence of STIs.

The report indicates that STIs are increasing in many regions, with syphilis cases among adults aged 15-49 years reaching 8 million in 2022, a million more than the ambitious target set by WHO Member States for 2030. The highest increases occurred in the Americas and African regions. The report also notes a surge in adult and maternal syphilis and associated congenital syphilis during the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in 230,000 syphilis-related deaths in 2022.

Moreover, the report highlights an increase in multi-resistant gonorrhoea, with nine countries reporting elevated levels of resistance to ceftriaxone, the last line treatment for gonorrhoea. WHO is monitoring the situation and has updated its recommended treatment to reduce the spread of this multi-resistant gonorrhoea strain.

The report also notes that HIV-related deaths continue to be high, with 630,000 deaths in 2022, 13% of which occurred in children under the age of 15 years. New HIV infections only reduced from 1.5 million in 2020 to 1.3 million in 2022, with five key population groups experiencing significantly higher HIV prevalence rates than the general population.

However, the report highlights some gains in expanding service access, with WHO validating 19 countries for eliminating mother-to-child transmission of HIV and/or syphilis. Botswana and Namibia are on the path to eliminating HIV, with Namibia being the first country to submit a dossier to be evaluated for the triple elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV, hepatitis B, and syphilis.

The report outlines recommendations for countries to strengthen shared approaches towards achieving the targets, including implementing policy and financing dialogues to develop cross-cutting investment cases and national-level sustainability plans, further consolidating and aligning disease-specific guidance, plans, and implementation support within a primary health care approach, and expanding multi-disease elimination approaches and packages.

The report emphasizes the need for more political will and commitment to urgently accelerate efforts to achieve global targets, with many indicators remaining off-track. The report will be discussed at the Seventy-seventh World Health Assembly.

In summary, the WHO report highlights the significant public health challenges posed by HIV, viral hepatitis, and STIs, with increasing incidence rates and insufficient decline in new infections. The report emphasizes the need for more political will and commitment to achieve global targets, with recommendations for countries to strengthen shared approaches towards achieving the targets and increased STI screenings.