In less than a decade, access to antiretroviral therapy in sub-Saharan Africa has increased more than 100-fold, according to new statistics released by UNAIDS in advance of the XIX International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2012) beginning this weekend in Washington, DC. And for the second year in a row, an additional 1.1 million people in sub-Saharan Africa received antiretroviral, reaching a total of 6.2 million people across the region, which represents nearly 70 percent of the global HIV burden.

By the end of 2011, an estimated 56 percent of people eligible for treatment in sub-Saharan Africa were accessing it. There was a 19 percent increase in treatment coverage across the region between 2010 and 2011 alone.

“Ten years ago, we could never have imagined reaching so many people in Africa with antiretroviral therapy," said UNAIDS executive director Michel Sidibé, who will be speaking at the AIDS 2012 opening ceremony on Sunday, July 22, at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. “Even in uncertain economic times, African leaders have shown leadership by increasing domestic HIV investments and expanding treatment access for people living with HIV.”

According to preliminary estimates from country reports provided to UNAIDS, the most dramatic progress has been seen in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Kenya. In 2011, at least 300,000 people in South Africa were newly enrolled in treatment; 100-000 in Kenya; and 150,000 in Zimbabwe. Many other countries, including Botswana, Namibia and Swaziland have already achieved high levels of treatment coverage.

Expanded treatment access in sub-Saharan Africa is due, in part, to a major drop in the cost of HIV treatment regimens. In 2000, the cost of a year’s supply of first-line HIV treatment was about US $10,000 per person; today, it is less than $100 per person.