We can win the fight against HIV/AIDS

Arwen Armbrecht
Writer and social media producer, Freelance
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Future of Global Health and Healthcare

Today is World AIDS Day. While HIV infection, which untreated can lead to AIDS, has claimed the lives of over 34 million people and currently infects roughly 37 million people, the message from the frontline has never been more positive. We are winning the war against HIV/AIDS, and we can end the AIDS epidemic by 2030.

A reminder of the basics

HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus, which causes HIV infection. HIV is not the same thing as acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, more commonly known as AIDS. A person is considered to have developed AIDS at the point when their immune system is too weak to defend the body against diseases which would not normally pose a serious threat.

Without treatment, a person infected with HIV can expect to live for just nine to 11 years after infection. At present there is no cure for HIV, though advances in antiretroviral therapy have made it so that diagnosis is no longer the “death sentence” of 30 years ago. A person who is diagnosed with HIV early and is being treated with the correct antiretroviral therapy can expect to live just as long as a healthy person without the virus.


HIV is on the run: facts and figures in 2015

  • According to the WHO there are an estimated 37 million people living with HIV today. 34 million are estimated to have died from HIV-related causes. Despite this, between 2000 and 2015, new HIV infections fell by 35%. Additionally, AIDS-related deaths fell by 24%.
  • In 2015, 16 million people were receiving antiretroviral therapy (ART). Expanding ART to all people living with HIV, along with facilitating prevention, could avert 21 million AIDS-related deaths and 28 million new infections by 2030.
  • The challenge is to create awareness and ensure all people at risk are being tested. As of today, only 54% of those infected with the virus are aware of it.
  • The WHO is confident that “the world is poised to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030”. In fact, a new report states that the world has halted and reversed the spread of HIV, which means we will achieve Millennium Development Goal 6.
  • The most affected region is the world is Sub-Saharan Africa, where 70% of new HIV infections occur worldwide. The good news is that while in 2000 only 11,000 people were receiving treatment for the disease, today that number is 11 million.

How can we win by 2030?

  • The drugs that are helping people live normal lives with HIV have been shown to also substantially reduce the risk of contracting HIV. Pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, has been shown to be an effective tool to prevent infection. The WHO now recommends PrEP be offered to all people at substantial risk of HIV infection.
  • The UN General Assembly has endorsed a target of ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030. In order to do this, new infections should be reduced by an additional 75% by 2020.
  • Awareness will be key. Another goal is to increase the number of people aware of their infection to 90% within the next 5 years, that 90% of those are receiving ART, and that 90% of people on ART have no detectable virus in their blood. This is known as the UNAIDS’ “90-90-90” target.
  • New infections need to be reduced from the current 2 million per year to the UN target of fewer than 500,000 by 2020 and 200,000 by 2030.
  • The health sectors of nations around the world must play a central role in achieving these goals.

Myths still exist, but the truth is winning

  • HIV is not a “death sentence”. People who are diagnosed early and receive antiretroviral therapy (ART) can expect to live just as long as a healthy person without infection.
  • In fact, ART is so effective in 2015, that it has been demonstrated that 85% percent of people infected with HIV and receiving ART are not infectious.
  • There are only three ways to contract HIV. Unprotected sex accounts for 95% of all HIV infections. Sharing needles and mother-to-child transmission make up the remaining 5%. Nevertheless, 99.5% of children born from HIV-positive women on effective treatment will not be infected with HIV.
  • You can not contract HIV from hugging or kissing a person who is HIV-positive. HIV cannot be passed on by sharing razors or toothbrushes.
  • HIV is not a gay disease. While historically HIV has had a strong impact on the gay community, the majority of HIV diagnosis in countries such as the UK were acquired heterosexually in 2010. In sub-Saharan Africa, girls account for 7 in 10 new infections among those aged 15-19.


Author: Donald Armbrecht is a freelance writer and social media producer.

Image: A red ribbon is put on the sleeves of a man by his friend to show support for people living with HIV. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar 

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