Health and Healthcare Systems

What is World AIDS Day and why does it matter?

World AIDS Day 2023 looks to recognize the vital role communities play in making progress towards ending AIDS.

World AIDS Day 2023 looks to recognize the vital role communities play in making progress towards ending AIDS. Image: Pexels/mcihealth

Shyam Bishen
Head, Centre for Health and Healthcare; Member of the Executive Committee, World Economic Forum
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Global Health

  • Although AIDS is not the seemingly unstoppable virus it once was, it still killed one person every minute in 2022.
  • World AIDS Day 2023 looks to recognize the vital role communities play in making progress towards ending AIDS.
  • The World Economic Forum’s Global Health and Healthcare Strategic Outlook highlights ways healthcare systems can better manage the health challenges of the future.

HIV/AIDS is not necessarily the death sentence it once was. Advances in treatment and understanding mean many people with HIV can now live long lives with the help of consistent medication, and the spread of the disease has been curbed.

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But while the virus doesn’t seem as unstoppable as it once did, it remains one of the most destructive pandemics in history. An estimated 38 million people live with the virus worldwide. And more than 35 million have died of HIV or AIDS-related illnesses since the first cases were reported over 35 years ago. AIDS caused one death every minute in 2022.

Access to treatment and prevention strategies is unequal, many lives continue to be lost to the virus, and it continues to be a significant health burden in many parts of the world. Alongside this, progress on ending AIDS is being hampered by systemic issues.

World AIDS Day has been observed every year since 1988, to help break down prejudice, remember lives lost and highlight the progress that still needs to be made.

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What is World AIDS Day 2023 about?

While huge progress has been made in treating and preventing HIV, it remains a critical global health issue that requires continued effort and funding. Significant challenges also remain in testing and treating marginalized groups, and societal stigma continues in many places.

On 1 December each year, people come together to recognize this, with many wearing red ribbons to show their support. This year, the theme for World AIDS Day is “Let communities lead”, with the day highlighting the vital role that community organizations have played in responding to the AIDS epidemic globally.

Community groups have been crucial in supporting individuals affected by HIV/AIDS, connecting people to services, building trust and helping break down stigma. But they continue to face significant barriers that prevent them from realizing their full leadership potential, says UNAIDS, the United Nations programme on HIV/AIDS.

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Graphs illustrating the change in number of new HIV inflections and number of new HIV infections.
Sub-Saharan Africa bears the biggest AIDS burden and saw the greatest fall in new infections in 2022. Image: UNAIDS

How are communities making a difference in the fight against AIDS?

This World AIDS Day seeks to highlight that for progress to be made, communities need to be in the driving seat, not just passengers.

A new UNAIDS report, Let Communities Lead, highlights how communities working to end AIDS are too often unrecognized, under-resourced and even under attack.

This means communities’ leadership roles need to be at the heart of HIV plans and programmes – they are the ones best placed to understand the diverse needs of those living with and affected by HIV, it says.

Meanwhile, these leadership roles also need to be properly funded, supported and remunerated. “Not ending AIDS is more expensive than ending it,” UNAIDS highlights.

Governments must also work to remove red tape that holds back communities’ provision of HIV services, while also making sure that laws are in place that protect marginalized communities.

Graph illustrating the number of AIDS-related deaths.
Almost 21 million AIDS-related deaths have been prevented by HIV treatment. Image: UNAIDS

What is the global AIDS strategy?

Fewer people acquired HIV in 2022 than at any point since the late 1980s, with the biggest declines in infection being seen in countries in sub-Saharan Africa, where the HIV burden is highest.

There is no cure for HIV infection, but with access to effective prevention and treatment HIV can be a manageable chronic condition. The UN Sustainable Development Goals target ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030.

The aim is for 95% of all people living with HIV (PLHIV) to be diagnosed, and 95% of those to be taking antiretroviral treatment (ART). Of those PLHIV taking ART, 95% should have suppressed viral loads, which helps their health as well as limit onward transmission of the disease.

In 2022, globally, those percentages stood at 86%, 89% and 93% respectively. The sub-Saharan countries of Botswana, Eswatini, Rwanda, the United Republic of Tanzania and Zimbabwe have already achieved the 95–95–95 targets. At least 16 other countries, including eight in sub-Saharan Africa, are close to doing so.

The World Economic Forum’s Global Health and Healthcare Strategic Outlook looks at ways healthcare systems can adapt, taking lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic and helping better prepare for future pandemics and disease outbreaks.

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