The International HIV/AIDS Epidemic | KFF


Key Facts

  • HIV, the virus that causes AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome), is one of the world’s most serious health and development challenges. Approximately 38 million people are currently living with HIV, and tens of millions of people have died of AIDS-related causes since the beginning of the epidemic.
  • Many people living with HIV or at risk for HIV infection do not have access to prevention, treatment, and care, and there is still no cure.
  • In recent decades, major global efforts have been mounted to address the epidemic, and despite challenges, significant progress has been made in addressing HIV.
  • Under Sustainable Development Goal 3, the global community agreed to aim to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030. However, while gains have been made, they have been uneven, and the interim “90-90-90” targets were missed in 2020. The focus now is on reaching the “95-95-95” targets by 2025.
  • The U.S. government (U.S.), through PEPFAR (the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief), is the single largest donor to international HIV efforts in the world, including the largest donor to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (Global Fund).
  • As COVID-19 continues to spread globally, its detrimental effects on HIV/AIDS efforts worldwide have already been seen, including disruptions of essential health services, such as testing, treatment, and prevention programs, and the extent of the impact remains uncertain.

Global Response

HIV, the virus that causes AIDS (see box), has become one of the world’s most serious health and development challenges since the first cases were reported in 1981. Approximately 84 million people have become infected with HIV since the start of the epidemic. Today, there are approximately 38 million people currently living with HIV, and tens of millions of people have died of AIDS-related causes since the beginning of the epidemic. 

HIV: A virus that is transmitted through certain body fluids and weakens the immune system by destroying cells that fight disease and infection, specifically CD4 cells (often called T cells). Left untreated, HIV reduces the number of CD4 cells in the body, making it more difficult for the immune system to fight off infections and other diseases. HIV can lead to the development of AIDS, “acquired immunodeficiency syndrome.”

Over the past two decades in particular, major global efforts have been mounted to address the epidemic, and significant progress has been made. The number of people newly infected with HIV, especially children, and the number of AIDS-relatehttps://www.kff.org/wp-admin/edit.php?post_type=daily-newsd deaths have declined over the years, and the number of people with HIV receiving treatment increased to 28.7 million in 2021.

Still, remaining challenges continue to complicate HIV control efforts. Many people living with HIV or at risk for HIV infection do not have access to prevention, treatment, and care, and there is still no cure. HIV primarily affects those in their most productive years, and it not only affects the health of individuals, but also impacts households, communities, and the development and economic growth of nations. Many of the countries hardest hit by HIV also face serious challenges due to other infectious diseases, food insecurity, and additional global health and development problems. In addition, as COVID-19 continues to spread globally, its detrimental effects on the HIV/AIDS response in low- and middle-income countries have already been seen, including disruptions in access to antiretroviral medicines, preventive services, and testing, and extent of the impact remains uncertain.

Latest Estimates

  • Global prevalence among adults (the percent of people ages 15-49 who are infected) has leveled since 2001 and was 0.7% in 2021.
  • There were 38.4 million people living with HIV in 2021, up from 30.8 million in 2010, the result of continuing new infections and people living longer with HIV. Of the people living with HIV in 2021, 36.7 million were adults and 1.7 million were children under age 15.
  • Although HIV testing capacity has increased over time, enabling more people to learn their HIV status, about one in six people with HIV (15%) are still unaware they are infected.
  • Although there have been significant declines in new infections since the mid-1990s, there were still about 1.5 million new infections in 2021, or about 4,000 new infections per day. Recent data show that progress has slowed and is unequal within and between countries. Furthermore, the pace of decline varies by age group, sex, race, and region.
  • HIV remains a leading cause of death worldwide and the leading cause of death globally among women of reproductive age. However, AIDS-related deaths have declined, due in part to antiretroviral treatment (ART) scale-up. 650,000 people died of AIDS in 2021, a 52% decrease from 1.4 million in 2010 and a 68% decrease from the peak of 2.0 million in 2004.
  • Sub-Saharan Africa, home to two-thirds of all people living with HIV globally, is the hardest hit region in the world, followed by Asia and the Pacific. Latin America as well as Eastern Europe and Central Asia are also heavily affected.
Affected/Vulnerable Populations
  • Most HIV infections are transmitted heterosexually, although risk factors vary. In some countries, men who have sex with men, people who inject drugs, sex workers, transgender people, and prisoners are disproportionally affected by HIV.
  • Women and girls represent nearly half (49%) of all people living with HIV worldwide, and HIV (along with complications related to pregnancy) is the leading cause of death among women of reproductive age. Gender inequalities, differential access to service, and sexual violence increase women’s vulnerability to HIV, and women, especially younger women, are biologically more susceptible to HIV. In sub-Saharan Africa, adolescent girls and young women ages 15-24 are twice as likely to be living with HIV than young men.
  • Young people, ages 15-24, account for almost a third (31%) of new HIV infections and in particular face barriers to accessing HIV and sexual and reproductive health services, including age-appropriate comprehensive sexuality education.
  • Globally, children account for 1.7 million people living with HIV; among children, there were 98,000 AIDS-related deaths and 160,000 new infections in 2021. Since 2010, new HIV infections among children have declined by 52%.
HIV & TB

HIV has led to a resurgence of tuberculosis (TB), particularly in Africa, and TB is a leading cause of death for people with HIV worldwide. In 2020, approximately 8% of new TB cases occurred in people living with HIV. However, between 2000 and 2020, TB deaths in people living with HIV declined substantially, largely due to the scale-up of joint HIV/TB services. (See the KFF fact sheet on TB.)

Prevention and Treatment

Numerous prevention interventions exist to combat HIV, and new tools such as vaccines, are currently being researched.

  • Effective prevention strategies include behavior change programs, condoms, HIV testing, blood supply safety, harm reduction efforts for injecting drug users, and male circumcision.
  • Additionally, recent research has shown that engagement in HIV treatment not only improves individual health outcomes but also significantly reduces the risk of transmission (referred to as “treatment as prevention” or TasP). Those with undetectable viral loads (known as being virally suppressed) have effectively no risk of transmitting HIV sexually.
  • Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) has also been shown to be an effective HIV prevention strategy in individuals at high risk for HIV infection. In 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended PrEP as a form of prevention for high-risk individuals in combination with other prevention methods. Further, in 2016, the U.N. Political Declaration on HIV/AIDS stated PrEP research and development should be accelerated.
  • Experts recommend that prevention be based on “knowing your epidemic” (tailoring prevention to the local context and epidemiology), using a combination of prevention strategies, bringing programs to scale, and sustaining efforts over time. Access to prevention, however, remains unequal, and there have been renewed calls for the strengthening of prevention efforts.

HIV treatment includes the use of combination antiretroviral therapy (ART) to attack the virus itself, and medications to prevent and treat the many opportunistic infections that can occur when the immune system is compromised by HIV. In light of research findings, WHO released a guideline in 2015 recommending starting HIV treatment earlier in the course of illness.

  • Combination ART, first introduced in 1996, has led to dramatic reductions in morbidity and mortality, and access has increased in recent years, rising to 28.7 million people (75% of people living with HIV) in 2021.
  • The percentage of pregnant women receiving ART for the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV increased to 81% in 2021, up from 46% in 2010.
  • Access to ART among children has more than doubled since 2010, with treatment coverage rising from 18% in 2010 to 52% in 2021.
  • Approximately 68% of all people living with HIV are virally suppressed, which means they are likely healthier and less likely to transmit the virus. Viral suppression varies greatly by region, key population, and sex.

Global Goals

International efforts to combat HIV began in the first decade of the epidemic with the creation of the WHO’s Global Programme on AIDS in 1987. Over time, new initiatives and financing mechanisms have helped increase attention to HIV and contributed to efforts to achieve global goals; these include:

  • the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), which was formed in 1996 to serve as the U.N. system’s coordinating body and to help galvanize worldwide attention to HIV/AIDS; and
  • the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (Global Fund), which was established in 2001 by a U.N. General Assembly Special Session (UNGASS) on HIV/AIDS as an independent, international financing institution that provides grants to countries to address HIV, TB, and malaria (see the KFF fact sheet on the Global Fund).

The contributions of affected country governments and civil society have also been critical to the response. These and other efforts work toward achieving major global HIV/AIDS goals that have been set through:

  • the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Adopted in 2015, the SDGs aim to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030 under SDG Goal 3, which is to “ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.”
  • UNAIDS targets to end the epidemic by 2030. On World AIDS Day 2014, UNAIDS set targets aimed at ending the AIDS epidemic by 2030. To achieve this, countries are working toward reaching the interim “95-95-95” targets—95% of people living with HIV knowing their HIV status; 95% of people who know their HIV positive status on treatment; and 95% of people on treatment with suppressed viral loads—by 2025. These targets are successors to the earlier 90-90-90 targets for 2020, which were missed. Based on the 2021 data and trends (the latest data available), 85% of people living with HIV knew their status; among those who knew their status, 88% were accessing treatment; and among those accessing treatment, 92% were virally suppressed. Additional interim targets have also been set for 2025, which place a greater emphasis on social services and reducing stigma and discrimination to address inequalities that hinder the HIV response.

In 2016, world leaders reaffirmed commitments to end AIDS by 2030, and in 2017, the U.N. Secretary-General called for the global community to reinvigorate global efforts to respond to AIDS. More recently, at the June 2021 U.N. High-Level Meeting on AIDS, world leaders adopted a new Political Declaration featuring global commitments and targets for 2025 to address inequalities impeding the AIDS response, including social, economic, racial, and gender-based inequalities.

Global Resources

UNAIDS estimates that $22.6 billion was available from all sources (domestic, donor governments, multilaterals, and foundations) to address HIV in low- and middle-income countries in 2021. Of this, donor governments provided $7.5 billion (see Figure 1). Other governments and organizations that contribute substantially to funding the global response include:

  • hard-hit countries, which have also provided resources to address their epidemics;
  • the Global Fund, which has approved over $27 billion for HIV efforts in more than 100 countries to date; and
  • the private sector, including foundations and corporations, which also plays a major role (the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, for one, has committed more than $3 billion in HIV grants to organizations addressing the epidemic, as well as provided additional funding to the Global Fund).

Looking ahead, UNAIDS estimates at least $29 billion will be needed by 2025 to meet global targets to end AIDS as a global public health threat by 2030.

U.S. Government Efforts

The U.S. government (U.S.) has been involved in HIV efforts since the 1980s and, today, is the single largest donor to international HIV efforts in the world, including the largest donor to the Global Fund. The U.S. first provided funding to address the global HIV epidemic in 1986. U.S. efforts and funding increased slowly over time through targeted initiatives to address HIV in certain countries in Africa, South Asia, and the Caribbean, but they intensified with the 2003 launch of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which brought significant new attention and funding to address the global HIV epidemic, as well as TB and malaria.

PEPFAR

Created in 2003, PEPFAR is the U.S. government’s global effort to combat HIV. As an interagency initiative, PEPFAR involves multiple U.S. departments, agencies, and programs that address the global epidemic, and it is carried out in close coordination with host country governments and other organizations, including multilateral organizations such as the Global Fund and UNAIDS. Collectively, U.S. bilateral activities span more than 50 countries, including countries reached through regional programs in Asia, West Africa, and the Western Hemisphere, with U.S. support for multilateral efforts reaching additional countries. (For more information, see the KFF fact sheet on PEPFAR.)

Since its creation, PEPFAR funding, which includes all bilateral funding for HIV as well as U.S. contributions to the Global Fund and UNAIDS, has totaled more than $110 billion. For FY 2022, Congress appropriated $5.4 billion for bilateral HIV, as well as $50 million for UNAIDS and $1.56 billion for the Global Fund, totaling $7 billion. (For more details on historical appropriations for U.S. global HIV/AIDS efforts, see the KFF fact sheets on the U.S. Global Health Budget: HIV/PEPFAR (bilateral funding) and the U.S. Global Health Budget: Global Fund, as well as the KFF budget tracker.)



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