World AIDS Day 2010: Here’s the Good News

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(Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

From the Pope’s comments on condoms to a promising new pill, this year has seen some positive steps in the battle against HIV/AIDS. But the fight is far from over.

In December 1996, TIME ran a story titled ‘AIDS: Hope With an Asterisk.’ Fourteen years later, that sentiment stands. Here is our take on three bits of good news, asterisks included:

(Read ‘David Ho, The Man Who Could Beat AIDS.’)

Infection Rates A new report from UNAIDS says the epidemic has stabilized. The number of new infections is falling, as are AIDS-related deaths. Overall, 33 countries have seen their infection rate drop by more than 25% between 2001 and 2009, thanks, in part, to HIV prevention efforts. That’s good news.

*But progress is uneven. Though infection rates are generally dropping in sub-Saharan Africa, they are rising elsewhere, especially in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

(Read ‘Eve of an HIV Epidemic in Romania)

The Pope The Vatican’s conservative stance on condoms has frustrated aid workers and health experts for years. But there are signs of change.  The pope recently told an Italian journalist that there are some cases (he used the example of a male prostitute) in which condoms can be used to prevent the spread of of HIV.

*The Pope’s pronouncement was controversial, even within the church. He may back down. Plus, the Pontiff’s stance is just one of several factors (including accessibility, cost and stigma) that keep people from using condoms.

(Read ‘Catholic AIDS Workers Debate Pope’s Condom Remarks.’)

The Pill Last month, a clinical trial found that a drug called Truvada (a combination of two antiretroviral drugs) reduced the odds of HIV infection in men. It is an approach called ‘pre-exposure prophylaxis.’ Some say it’s the best news in years.

*It may, in fact, be great news, but it needs more testing. Also, the pill only works if you always take it. Studies show people are not so good at this.