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It is urgent to combat inequality in the fight against AIDS

New data from UNAIDS (the UN agency leading the global effort to end the AIDS epidemic) on the global response to HIV reveals that over the past two years of COVID-19 and other global crises, progress against the HIV pandemic has slowed, resources have shrunk and, as a result, millions of lives are at risk.


The world organization has placed special emphasis this year on fostering a message of inclusion aimed at raising awareness to end the AIDS epidemic globally. On World AIDS Alert Day, “UNAIDS urges each and every one of us to address the inequalities that are holding back progress towards ending AIDS.”


The slogan “Equalize” is a call to action. According to the agency, it aims to encourage us to work on all those practical actions that have been shown to be necessary to address inequalities and help end AIDS.


Recent data on HIV in the world


The number of new infections globally declined by just 3.6% between 2020 and 2021, the smallest annual decline in the numbers of new HIV infections since 2016. Eastern Europe and Central Asia, the Middle East, North Africa and Latin America have been experiencing an increase in annual HIV infections for several years. In Asia and the Pacific, the world's most populous region, UNAIDS data show that new HIV infections are now increasing in those corners where they had begun to decline. The increase in the number of new infections in these areas is undoubtedly alarming. In Eastern and Southern Africa, the rapid gains of previous years slowed significantly in 2021. However, there is also positive data. There are notable declines in new HIV infections in West and Central Africa and the Caribbean, but even in these regions the HIV response is threatened by resource cuts.


What are the current challenges?


“These data (from the UNAIDS report) show that the global AIDS response is seriously at risk. Failure to make rapid progress means we are losing ground, as the pandemic thrives by taking advantage of COVID-19, mass displacement and other crises. Let us always keep in mind the millions of preventable deaths we are trying to stop,” said Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of UNAIDS.


The dithering progress means that there were about 1.5 million new infections last year, more than 1 million more than global targets.


Marked inequalities at national and inter-country levels are holding back progress in the HIV response, and HIV is further widening these inequalities.


It’s time to act


That is why, on World AIDS Alert Day, government and non-profit entities will join their voices to raise awareness about the importance of educating, preventing and eliminating the stigma surrounding HIV globally.


In the case of the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reinforced its initiatives in that direction. As the U.S. continues to respond to COVID-19, increased investments in the Ending the HIV Epidemic in the United States (EHE) initiative is vital to regaining momentum, advancing innovation, and achieving health equity.


The EHE initiative is scaling up four science-based strategies that can end the epidemic: diagnose, treat, prevent and respond. For maximum impact, CDC continues to invest in communities most impacted by HIV to help local HIV programs recover, rebuild, and begin expanding EHE strategies in the wake of COVID-19.


The scope to offer key prevention strategies, such as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), will be expanded and strengthened in settings such as STD clinics and syringe service programs, which are critical to reaching people at risk of contracting HIV who would otherwise not have access to health care.


These investments are part of a bold initiative by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that strives to end the HIV epidemic in the United States by 2030. If sufficient resources are available, the initiative will eventually expand into other areas.


More information


Learn more about the fight against HIV and AIDS around the world on the UNAIDS website, as well as on the World Health Organization (WHO) website.

 

*Sources: UNAIDS, CDC.gov and WHO.int

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