UNAIDS issued a stark warning Monday that if leaders fail to tackle inequalities the world could face 7.7 million AIDS-related deaths over the next 10 years.
At least 300,000 children were newly infected with HIV in 2020, or one child every two minutes.
Another 120,000 children died from AIDS-related causes during the same period, or one child every five minutes.
“Progress against the AIDS pandemic, which was already off track, is now under even greater strain as the COVID-19 crisis continues to rage, disrupting HIV prevention and treatment services, schooling, violence-prevention programmes and more. We cannot be forced to choose between ending the AIDS pandemic today and preparing for the pandemics of tomorrow. The only successful approach will achieve both. As of now, we are not on track to achieve either.”
Some countries, including some with the highest rates of HIV, have made remarkable progress against AIDS, illustrating what is feasible. However, new HIV infections are not falling fast enough globally to stop the pandemic, with 1.5 million new HIV infections in 2020 and growing HIV infection rates in some countries. Infections are also following lines of inequality. Six in seven new HIV infections among adolescents in sub-Saharan Africa are occurring among adolescent girls. Gay men and other men who have sex with men, sex workers and people who use drugs face a 25–35 times greater risk of acquiring HIV worldwide.
COVID-19 is undercutting the AIDS response in many places. The pace of HIV testing declined almost uniformly and fewer people living with HIV initiated treatment in 2020 in 40 of 50 countries reporting to UNAIDS. HIV prevention services have been impacted—in 2020, harm reduction services for people who use drugs were disrupted in 65% of 130 countries surveyed.
“It is still possible to end the epidemic by 2030,” affirmed United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres in his World AIDS Day message. “But that will require stepped up action and greater solidarity. To beat AIDS—and build resilience against the pandemics of tomorrow—we need collective action.”
This year marks 40 years since the first cases of AIDS were reported. Since that time, there has been huge progress, particularly in expanding access to treatment. By June 2021, 28.2 million people had access to HIV treatment, up from 7.8 million in 2010, although progress has slowed considerably.