HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. It is the virus that can lead to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome or AIDS if not treated. Unlike some other viruses, the human body can’t get rid of HIV completely, even with treatment. So once you get HIV, you have it for life.
HIV attacks the body’s immune system, specifically the CD4 cells (T cells), which help the immune system fight off infections. Untreated, HIV reduces the number of CD4 cells (T cells) in the body, making the person more likely to get other infections or infection-related cancers. Over time, HIV can destroy so many of these cells that the body can’t fight off infections and disease. These opportunistic infections or cancers take advantage of a very weak immune system and signal that the person has AIDS, the last stage of HIV infection.
HIV continues to be a major global public health issue, having claimed more than 32 million lives so far. However, with increasing access to effective HIV prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care, including for opportunistic infections, HIV infection has become a manageable chronic health condition, enabling people living with HIV to lead long and healthy lives.
There were approximately 37.9 million people living with HIV at the end of 2018.
As a result of concerted international efforts to respond to HIV, coverage of services has been steadily increasing. In 2018, 62% of adults and 54% of children living with HIV in low- and middle-income countries were receiving lifelong antiretroviral therapy (ART).
A great majority (82%) of pregnant and breastfeeding women living with HIV also received ART, which not only protects their health, but also ensures prevention of HIV transmission to their newborns.
However, not everyone is able to access HIV testing, treatment and care. Notably, the 2018 Super-Fast-Track targets for reducing new paediatric HIV infections to 40 000 was not achieved. Global targets for 2020 are at risk of being missed unless rapid action is taken.
Due to gaps in HIV services, 770 000 people died from HIV-related causes in 2018 and 1.7 million people were newly infected.
In 2018, for the first time, individuals from key population groups and their sexual partners accounted for over half of all new HIV infections globally (an estimated 54%) in 2018. For eastern European, central Asian, Middle Eastern and north African regions, these groups accounted for around 95% of new HIV infections.
Key populations include: men who have sex with men; people who inject drugs; people in prisons and other closed settings; sex workers and their clients; and transgender people.
In addition, given their life circumstances, a range of other populations may be particularly vulnerable, and at increased risk of HIV infection, such as adolescent girls and young women in southern and eastern Africa and indigenous peoples in some communities.
Increased HIV vulnerability is often associated with legal and social factors, which increases exposure to risk situations and creates barriers to accessing effective, quality and affordable HIV prevention, testing and treatment services.
Over two thirds of all people living with HIV live in the WHO African Region (25.7 million). While HIV is prevalent among the general population in this region, an increasing number of new infections occur among key population groups.
HIV can be diagnosed through rapid diagnostic tests that can provide same-day results. This greatly facilitates diagnosis and linkage with treatment and care.
There is no cure for HIV infection. However, effective antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) can control the virus and help prevent onward transmission to other people.
At the end of 2018, an estimated 79% of people living with HIV knew their status. 62% were receiving antiretroviral therapy (ART) and 53% had achieved suppression of the HIV virus with no risk of infecting others.
In June 2019, 24.5 million people were accessing antiretroviral therapy.
Between 2000 and 2018, new HIV infections fell by 37% and HIV-related deaths fell by 45%, with 13.6 million lives saved due to ART. This achievement was the result of great efforts by national HIV programmes supported by civil society and international development partners.
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