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Global HIV & AIDS Epidemic

South African Constitutional Court Judge, Edwin Cameron at the 2008 International AIDS Conference in Mexico City. Justice Cameron is living with HIV.The history of HIV and AIDS is a short one. As recently as the 1970s, no one was aware of this deadly illness. Since then the global HIV/AIDS epidemic has become one of the greatest threats to human health and development. At the same time, much has been learnt about the science of HIV and AIDS, as well as how to prevent and treat the disease.

There is still no cure for HIV but HIV treatment has improved enormously since the mid-1990s. HIV-positive people who take a combination of three antiretroviral drugs can expect to recover their health and live for many years without developing AIDS, as long as they keep taking the drugs every day.

HIV statistics for the end of 2011 indicate that around 34 million people are living with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Each year around 2.5 million more people become infected with HIV and 1.7 million die of AIDS. Although HIV and AIDS is found in all parts of the world, some areas are more afflicted than others.

Countries and regions

The worst affected region is sub-Saharan Africa, where in a few countries more than one in five adults is infected with HIV. The epidemic is spreading most rapidly in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, where the number of people living with HIV increased by 250 percent between 2001 and 2010. Many Western countries, such as the UK, have increasing rates of HIV transmission through heterosexual sex. In America, where more than a million people are living with HIV, heterosexual sex accounts for one third of new diagnoses. In the Caribbean countries and Latin America annual new infections are declining, but stigma of high-risk groups remains a problem.

Global challenges

HIV and AIDS warenes and prevention poster in PeruAlthough it is known how to prevent and treat HIV and AIDS, too few people have access to the necessary services. Most rich countries and ten low- and middle-income countries, for example Botswana, Cambodia, Cuba and Rwanda, have achieved universal treatment access. Although access to treatment remains a challenge, improvements are being seen. For the first time, in 2011, more than half of people in need of antiretroviral drugs were receiving them, with coverage reaching 54 percent; yet only 28 percent of children have access to HIV treatment. Whilst access to prevention tools such as HIV education, condoms, clean needles and programmes to prevent mother-to-child transmission is improving in some countries, access remains inadequate for many people.

Explore the global HIV and AIDS epidemic topics to find out how HIV affects different groups of people, including prisoners, women and orphans; regional and country approaches to HIV; and a more detailed focus on major HIV and AIDS issues, including HIV and AIDS funding and HIV stigma and discrimination.

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