While the global focus is on Covid-19, the battle against HIV and AIDS continues. On World Aids Day, Concern's Senior Health Advisor Breda Gahan reflects on a virus that has claimed the lives of over 32 million people.
Nobody could have imagined that towards the end of 2020, both the global HIV epidemic and the Covid-19 pandemic are ongoing - challenging capacity and optimal responses at all levels in many countries. Over 60 million Covid-19 cases have been reported, with 1.4 million deaths during the past 12 months.
HIV and AIDS has been affecting people since it was first diagnosed in 1981 and, to date, over 75 million people have become infected with HIV globally. Tragically, over 32 million people have died from AIDS-related illnesses since the start of the epidemic.
Currently, 38 million people in the world are living with HIV but infections have been reduced by 40% since the peak in 1998. There is still no vaccine, there is still no cure, but more people are receiving treatment, with 67% of all people living with HIV (PLHIV) on treatment today.
However, this means that 33% are not accessing treatment. These are mostly extremely poor communities in urban and remote rural locations, often in areas where Concern Worldwide is working. About 4,500 new HIV infections are reported globally every day and here in Ireland, at least one new HIV infection is reported every day.
The HIV epidemic reflects the inequalities and injustices faced by women and girls in poorest countries and forty years into the HIV epidemic, AIDS regrettably remains the leading cause of death of women of child bearing age.
Every week, around 5,500 young women aged 15–24 years become infected with HIV (nearly 800 a day). Surveys from 2013 to 2018 show that knowledge of HIV prevention remains worryingly low, particularly among women and girls. In sub-Saharan Africa, the region most affected by HIV, seven out of 10 young women did not have comprehensive knowledge about HIV.
Supporting girls to stay in school and HIV education for prevention is essential. Prevention programmes that focus on adolescent girls and young women aged 15 to 24 years are now having an impact and it is crucial to build on this momentum.