This year marks 40 years since the first cases of AIDS were reported, and 20 years since the world created the Global Fund to help defeat HIV.
In that time, over 77 million people have become infected with HIV and over 36 million have died from AIDS-related illnesses worldwide.
But the tireless efforts of communities, activists, governments, and global health partners have resulted in extraordinary progress. In countries where the Global Fund invests, AIDS-related deaths have dropped by 65% in the last 20 years.
However, COVID-19 is having a catastrophic impact on the most vulnerable communities, exposing the deep inequalities that drive HIV, and threatening decades of progress. To get back on track and end AIDS as a public health threat once and for all, we must double down on our commitment to tackle the inequalities that fuel the epidemic.
Pandemics exacerbate and thrive on inequity. They find the fissures in our societies and deepen them. As a result, the poorest and most marginalized always suffer the most.
Over the last two decades, the world has made tremendous progress in the fight against HIV. In countries where the Global Fund invests, AIDS-related deaths have dropped by 65% since the Global Fund was founded 20 years ago. But progress has not been even and inequalities continue to fuel the HIV epidemic.
"My first assignment out of medical school was in Burkina Faso. This was in 2004, at the peak of the AIDS epidemic, and it was my first contact with the disease in sub-Saharan Africa. At the time, very few people in the country had access to antiretroviral therapy (ART). The vast majority of patients I saw were diagnosed very late. Few patients survived hospitalization and the few that did would usually die in the year following discharge if they could not access ART."
The four-year age gap between 18-year-old Aaliyah Westerhof and 22-year-old Winnie Xinwa may seem insignificant, but because both girls were born to HIV-positive mothers at a time when prevention of mother-to-child-transmission therapies (PMTCT) were only beginning to be available – their small age difference had life-altering consequences.
When COVID-19 struck in Nigeria in 2020, the country went into lockdown. As the virus overwhelmed systems for health, many clinical facilities were swiftly turned into COVID-19 isolation centers, displacing the delivery of other lifesaving health services, including those for HIV, TB and malaria. But some important lessons were learned and now, the country is seeing better results than ever.
Eswatini may be a small country, but it has put up a mighty fight against HIV. It has one of the highest prevalence rates of HIV in the world, but thanks to engaged political will and coordinated work with partnerships like the Global Fund, Eswatini has already reached the ‘95-95-95’ global HIV target set for 2030.
"In 2001, at the age of 22 – when I thought my life had just begun – I was diagnosed with HIV. At that time, the diagnosis felt like receiving a death sentence, and every day, I waited for my hour of death. However, after two months of that waiting, death didn’t come. Instead, a comrade arrived and took me to the offices of the Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) – a South African group that was fighting for access to HIV treatment for all."
When COVID-19 arrived in Guatemala, the community health center where Bryanna and her fellow sex workers got tested for HIV closed its doors. With support from the Global Fund, a pilot of self-testing kits is helping people like Bryanna and Ben get access to HIV prevention and diagnosis in times of COVID-19.