Population Matters

Getting to Zero: Hope and Challenges for World AIDS Day

December 1st, 2011

Today is World AIDS Day, a day for awareness, commemoration, and celebration.  HIV/AIDS has claimed and affected the lives of millions: between 1981 and 2007, an estimated 25 million people died from the virus and there are an estimated 34 million people living with HIV today.  But this World AIDS Day, the tone is more upbeat and optimistic.

This year’s theme – “Getting to Zero” – signals a push for a time when, in the words of the Joint United Nations Program on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS), there will be “zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination, and zero AIDS-related deaths.”  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in a speech this past November, called upon the American people to help usher in a time when the world will have an “AIDS-free generation.” While these goals may have seemed extremely far-off or even impossible on the first World AIDS Day in 1988, the UNAIDS World AIDS Day Report 2011 gives cause for optimism.

According to the report, the number of people living with HIV is up 17% from 2001; the number of AIDS-related deaths fell to 1.8 million in 2010 (down from 2.2 million in the mid-2000s); the number of new infections is down 21 percent from the epidemic peak in 1997; and 47 percent (6.6 million) of the estimated 14.2 million people eligible for treatment in low- and middle-income countries accessed lifesaving antiretroviral therapy in 2010.  All are encouraging signs, but as the report points out, there is more work to do.

HIV/AIDS continues to disproportionately affect some populations of the world more than others.  Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, contains only 12 percent of the global population, but has 68 percent of all the people living with HIV.  In 2010, the region accounted for 70 percent of all new HIV infections. With a population projected to climb to over 3 billion by the end of the century, more resources, energy and focus must be directed to sub-Saharan Africa in order to have any chance of “getting to zero.”

Globally, women account for 50 percent of those living with HIV, a number that seems to be holding steady.  In sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean, the proportions are even higher (59 and 53 percent, respectively).  HIV/AIDS is one of the leading causes of death for women of reproductive age (15-44). In 2008 alone, an estimated 60,000 maternal deaths were attributed to HIV.

The report from UNAIDS calls for more efficient and targeted investment in order to adequately and effectively meet the varying HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention needs around the globe. (International assistance for AIDS response shrank from $8.7 billion in 2009 to $7.6 billion in 2010.) One way to more effectively use available resources is to more fully integrate HIV programs with reproductive health and family planning programs.

Letting these programs operate independently of each other can often result in healthcare gaps, explains the Center for Health and Gender Equity (CHANGE): “Women living with HIV may go untreated because their family planning provider does not test for HIV. Others may receive treatment at an HIV clinic, yet face stigma if they seek prenatal care. Girls facing unintended pregnancy may receive prenatal and maternity care, yet no information on contraceptive methods.”

The world has come a long way from the uncertainty and fear felt at the start of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 1980s: Globally, transmission rates continue to fall, more people are living (and for longer) with HIV, and access to treatment continues to expand. Yet, for all the optimism and hope for an “AIDS-free generation,” much more must be done. So this World AIDS Day, let us dare to hope for our future, but not lose focus on the many challenges that must be overcome to make that dream a reality.

Posted by Christina Daggett, Program Associate

One Response to “Getting to Zero: Hope and Challenges for World AIDS Day”

  1. Steven Earl Salmony Says:


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