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The statistics of AIDS are startling. Since the start of the epidemic, more than 70 million people have become infected with HIV; more than 35 million people have died of AIDS-related illnesses. AIDS is one of the leading causes of death worldwide; in fact, it is the leading cause of death for women of reproductive age in low- and middle-income countries.

However, there is one number that is even more startling. Out of 37 million people estimated to be living with HIV, 19 million do not know their status. In other words, approximately half the people living with HIV do not know that they are HIV-positive – and therefore do not seek out treatment and care.

People who don’t know their status, or who are not able to access treatment and care, are at risk of developing AIDS or of passing the virus on to others – at a huge cost to themselves and to society.

There are 19.5 million people around the world on treatment for HIV, 11 million of them through programs supported by the Global Fund as of 2016. Today, with access to lifesaving treatment, an HIV-positive person can expect to have the same lifespan as someone who is HIV-negative.

One of the cornerstones of this lifesaving treatment is the use of antiretrovirals (ARVs). ARVs are given as a combination of drugs that can reduce the amount of HIV in the body or prevent HIV in people at substantial risk of acquiring the virus. However, ARVs are not a cure for HIV; a person living with HIV who is on treatment will need to take ARVs the rest of their life. ARVs also have another benefit: treatment reduces the chance that an HIV-positive person will pass the virus on to someone else by 97 percent.

People currently on antiretroviral therapy through Global Fund-supported programs

There are four ways HIV can be spread from one person to another:

  • Through infected blood or blood products
  • Through contaminated needles, syringes, or other injecting equipment
  • Through exchange of bodily fluids, such as during sexual intercourse
  • Through pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding.

No cost, huge benefit: a life saved

Leiyoeung Tai, 48, scratches out a meager living as a trader of used water bottles and tin cans in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. When he discovered he was HIV-positive, he was already seriously ill but had to keep working in order to survive. Paying for medication was out of the question. Fortunately, Tai was able to access treatment free of charge through a program supported by the Global Fund. He regained his strength and no longer worries that the virus will prevent him from making a living.

Facing up to AIDS

Because of the stigma surrounding the disease and those living with HIV, many people lack basic knowledge about the disease. Even when they have some knowledge, they are afraid to get tested. Stigma and discrimination also prevent people from accessing health services, which means that not only do they not benefit from treatment, but they also continue to pass on the virus to others.

Facing up to AIDS begins by talking. Talking about the virus, talking about how to prevent it, talking about those who are living with it – and talking about sex. Admittedly, this is not easy in any society. But not talking about AIDS allows the growth of fear and prejudice.

"We must continue to speak up openly about AIDS. No progress will be achieved by being timid, refusing to face unpleasant facts. or prejudging our fellow human beings. In the ruthless world of AIDS, there is no us and them…And in that world, silence is death."
Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary-General


Preventing the spread of HIV begins with education. Education is the best tool for fighting stigma and discrimination. Educating the public through awareness campaigns coupled with one-to-one knowledge sharing has proven to be effective. In many countries, education about HIV prevention is not only integrated into the school curriculum but is supported by peer counseling – people who are trained in sharing information with their peers.

Education efforts also focus on encouraging behavior change, such as a delaying the start of sexual activity, reducing the number of sexual partners, and increasing the consistent use of condoms.

Education plays a pivotal role, not only in terms of increasing knowledge, but also because keeping youth in school helps keep them out of situations where they might be at risk. In eastern and southern Africa, where the infection rates for adolescent girls and young women are up to eight times the rates of adolescent boys and young men, studies show that keeping adolescent girls in school reduces the chances of them contracting HIV.


Education plays a key role in HIV prevention, but prevention strategies are most effective when a number of tools and interventions are used in combination. The harm reduction package of interventions for HIV prevention among people who inject drugs is a good example. It includes interventions such as needle and syringe programs, opioid substitution therapy, access to condoms, overdose prevention, HIV treatment and care, and testing and counseling for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, among others.

Condoms, when correctly and consistently used, are an extremely reliable HIV prevention tool and have the added benefit of preventing unplanned pregnancies and other sexually transmitted infections.

One of the most effective and impactful prevention strategies is the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV, often referred to as PMTCT. Through 2016, 4.25 million women had received services to prevent them passing the virus to their unborn children through programs that we support.

By working closely with communities to ensure that all pregnant women receive adequate antenatal care, testing for HIV, and ARVs where needed, with full engagement of their partners, as well as support after birth, we get closer to an AIDS-free generation.

Key populations

Data gathered over the last decade suggest that key populations – such as men who have sex with men, transgender people, sex workers, and people who inject drugs, among others - are disproportionately affected by HIV. At the same time, these are the populations least likely to access services, whether it is because they experience discrimination at the hands of health care providers or law enforcement or simply because services are not available

Evidence also demonstrates that punitive laws or policies impede access to health services, preventing these populations from receiving information, treatment and care.

Although access to comprehensive services for HIV continues to expand worldwide, ending HIV as an epidemic will require a focused approach – ensuring that investments go to interventions that are based in human rights and that are the most effective for each population, geographic setting, legal system and culture.

A journey of motherhood | UNICEF and the Global Fund

For over two years, UNICEF and the Global Fund followed six women living with HIV throughout their pregnancies in South Africa and Malawi, two countries hit very hard by HIV. Here are their journeys of delivering healthy babies free of HIV.

Published 20 July 2017