Image courtesy UNAIDS.
SOURCES: United Nations, UN AIDS, World Health Organisation

World AIDS Day is observed annually on 1st December, and in 2021, the theme is “End inequalities. End AIDS. End pandemics.”

This week, UNAIDS issued a stark warning that if leaders fail to tackle inequalities the world could face 7.7 million AIDS-related deaths over the next 10 years. UNAIDS further warned that if the transformative measures needed to end AIDS are not taken, the world will also stay trapped in the COVID-19 crisis and remain dangerously unprepared for the pandemics to come.

This World AIDS Day, the reality is that HIV continues to be a major global public health issue, having claimed 36.3 million [27.2–47.8 million] lives so far, according to data from the World Health Organisation (WHO).

There were an estimated 37.7 million [30.2–45.1 million] people living with HIV at the end of 2020, over two thirds of whom (25.4 million) are in the WHO African Region.

The WHO notes that in 2020, 680 000 [480 000–1.0 million] people died from HIV-related causes and 1.5 million [1.0–2.0 million] people acquired HIV.

There is no cure for HIV infection. However, with increasing access to effective HIV prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care, including for opportunistic infections, the WHO says HIV infection has become a manageable chronic health condition, enabling people living with HIV to lead long and healthy lives.

In order to reach the new proposed global 95–95–95 targets set by UNAIDS, the WHO says efforts will need to redouble to avoid the worst-case scenario of 7.7 million HIV-related deaths over the next 10 years, as well as increasing HIV infections due to HIV service disruptions during COVID-19, and the slowing public health response to HIV.

UNAIDS Executive Director, Winnie Byanyima, reminds the world in her message on this World AIDS Day that “AIDS remains a pandemic, the red light is flashing and only by moving fast to end the inequalities that drive the pandemic can we overcome it.”

In his World AIDS Day Message this year, UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, stresses the importance of leadership to combat stigma, and ensure equal health-care access, which are crucial for ending the epidemic by 2030.

And WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called on governments and citizens to “use every tool in the toolbox to narrow inequalities, prevent HIV infections, save lives, and end the AIDS epidemic.”

World AIDS Day 2021 message from UN Secretary-General, António Guterres

United Nations Secretary General, António Guterres. (Image courtesy the UN)

On this World AIDS Day, we focus attention on the inequalities that drive HIV and AIDS.  It is still possible to end the epidemic by 2030.  But, that will require stepped-up action and greater solidarity. 

The United Nations General Assembly recently adopted a bold new plan to accelerate progress, including new targets for 2025.

To beat AIDS — and build resilience against the pandemics of tomorrow — we need collective action.  That includes harnessing the leadership of communities to drive change, combating stigma and eliminating discriminatory and punitive laws, policies and practices.

We must also dismantle financial barriers to health care and increase investment in vital public services to achieve universal health coverage for everyone, everywhere.  This will ensure equal access to HIV prevention, testing, treatment and care, including COVID-19 vaccinations and services.

Together, let us recommit to end inequalities and end AIDS.

World AIDS Day 2021 message from UNAIDS Executive Director, Winnie Byanyima

Dear friends,

Greetings on this World AIDS Day, and my solidarity with all around the world as we confront the impact of colliding pandemics.

This year, the world agreed on a bold plan that, if leaders fulfil it, will end AIDS by 2030. That’s so exciting.

But today we, as the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, issue a stark warning. AIDS remains a pandemic, the red light is flashing and only by moving fast to end the inequalities that drive the pandemic can we overcome it.

Where leaders are acting boldly and together, bringing together cutting-edge science, delivering services that meet all people’s needs, protecting human rights and sustaining adequate financing, AIDS-related deaths and new HIV infections are becoming rare.

But this is only the case in some places and for some people.

Without the inequality-fighting approach we need to end AIDS, the world would also struggle to end the COVID-19 pandemic and would remain unprepared for the pandemics of the future. That would be profoundly dangerous for us all.

Progress in AIDS, which was already off track, is now under even greater strain as the COVID-19 crisis continues to rage, disrupting HIV prevention and treatment services, schooling, violence prevention programmes and more.

On our current trajectory, we aren’t bending the curve fast enough and risk an AIDS pandemic lasting decades. We have to move faster on a set of concrete actions agreed by United Nations Member States to address the inequalities that are driving HIV.

Through fighting the AIDS pandemic, we have learned a lot about what we need more of for AIDS and for all pandemics.

We urgently need sufficient community-led and community-based infrastructure as part of a strong public health system, underpinned by robust civil society accountability.

We need policies to ensure fair and affordable access to science.

Every new technology should reach each and every one who needs it without delay.

We need to protect our health workers and expand their numbers to meet our urgent needs.

We must protect human rights and build trust in health systems.

It is these that will ensure we close the inequality gaps and end AIDS. But they are too often applied unevenly, are underfunded and are underappreciated.

I salute the front-line communities that have pioneered the approaches shown to be most effective, that have driven the momentum for change and that are pushing leaders to be bold. I urge you: keep pushing.

World leaders must work together urgently to tackle these challenges head-on. I urge you: be courageous in matching words with deeds.

There is not a choice to be made between ending the AIDS pandemic that is raging today and preparing for the pandemics of tomorrow. The only successful approach will achieve both. As of now, we are not on track to achieve either.

If we take on the inequalities that hold back progress, we can deliver on the promise to end AIDS by 2030. It is in our hands.

Every minute that passes, we are losing a precious life to AIDS. We don’t have time.

End inequalities. End AIDS. End pandemics.

Thank you.

World AIDS Day 2021 message from WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus

Nearly two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, we are still a long way from ending it.

But there’s another infectious threat that, after more than 40 years, is not over either — the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Around the world, almost 78 million people live with HIV.  Last year, an estimated 1.5 million people were newly infected, and 680,000 people died from causes related to AIDS.

While some countries have made real progress against the disease, many others are falling behind.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, many of the most at-risk populations were not being reached with HIV testing, prevention and care services.

The pandemic has made things worse, with the disruption of essential health services and the increased vulnerability of people with HIV to COVID-19.

Like COVID-19, we have all the tools to end the AIDS epidemic, if we use them well. 

On World Aids Day 2021, WHO calls on governments and citizens to use every tool in their toolbox to narrow inequalities, prevent HIV infections, save lives, and end the AIDS epidemic.