Although AIDS-related deaths have fallen in recent years, the epidemic still killed 680,000 people by 2020.
In 2021, it is 40 years since AIDS was discovered in 1981.
Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) is a chronic and potentially life-threatening condition caused by human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
HIV attacks the immune system and weakens it to the point where it cannot fight infections.
According to UNAIDS, 37.7 million people living with HIV lived around the world by 2020.
About 1.5 million people were infected with HIV by 2020, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
World AIDS Day, celebrated annually on December 1, is dedicated to raising awareness of the AIDS pandemic and mourning those who have died of the disease.
Global HIV / AIDS
HIV / AIDS has killed up to 36.3 million people and infected 79.3 million over the last 40 years.
While deaths have dropped by nearly 50 percent since 2010, about 680,000 people died of AIDS-related illnesses by 2020.
New HIV infections
By 2020, about 1.5 million people got HIV, and women and girls accounted for about half of new infections. Every week, about 5,000 young women between the ages of 15 and 24 become infected, according to UNAIDS.
More than half of the world’s HIV-positive population (20.6 out of 37.7 million) live in eastern and southern Africa. By 2020, the regions had about 670,000 new infections and 310,000 AIDS-related deaths.
In some regions, women who are exposed to physical or sexual violence are 1.5 times more likely to become infected with HIV. Worldwide, at least 35 percent of women have been sexually or physically assaulted by an intimate partner, according to the WHO.
A global breakdown of AIDS cases and deaths is shown in the table below.
Prevention and treatment options
UNAIDS has recommended a number of tools and treatments to tackle HIV.
Sex education is essential for young people to understand how to protect themselves from sexually transmitted diseases (such as AIDS) and avoid unplanned pregnancies.
- Access to antiretroviral therapy
By 2020, at least 27.5 million people had access to antiretroviral therapy (ART) – a treatment that reduces the amount of HIV in the blood (also known as viral load).
According to UNAIDS, about 800,000 children aged 0-14 years living with HIV were not on HIV treatment by 2020.
Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) involves taking antiretroviral medication prior to any exposure to HIV. UNAIDS says this has been effective across all population groups.
- Policies for voluntary male circumcision
In countries where there are high rates of HIV transmission, voluntary medical male circumcision (VMMC) can help reduce transmission. In 2020, 2.8 million men underwent VNMCs compared to 4.1 million in 2019 – a decrease mainly due to COVID-19.
COVID-19 and HIV
The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted medical services and treatments, meaning many of those living with HIV in the most vulnerable places have been left without the care they need.
“We know that fewer people have had access to HIV prevention medication. We also know that fewer people came to test for HIV worldwide, said Winnie Byanyima, CEO of UNAIDS, at a news conference Tuesday.
“We also know that the rollout of treatment has slowed down and people have dropped out of treatments and are not picking up their medication.”
In addition, due to their compromised immune system, those living with HIV are much more likely to develop co-morbidities from COVID-19.
By November 2021, only 7 percent of people living in Africa had been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to Our World in Data.
The map below shows how COVID vaccination rates compare to HIV prevalence.