World AIDS Day: The progress made

Person holding bottle of medicine and two others looking at it (© Albert Mamasi/AEE Rwanda)
A case manager in Rwanda meets with clients to discuss HIV prevention and medication. (© Albert Mamasi/AEE Rwanda)

A U.S.-created program, the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), continues to help the world fight HIV nearly two decades after it was created. Today, PEPFAR is also tackling COVID-19.

Among PEPFAR’s achievements:

  • Saved more than 21 million lives.
  • Prevented millions of HIV infections.
  • Accelerated progress toward achieving epidemic control of HIV in more than 50 countries since 2003.

Once COVID-19 struck, many countries also turned to the program’s facilities for help with this new and deadly virus.

This progress comes as the world celebrates World AIDS Day on December 1. This year, the U.S. government’s World AIDS Day theme is “Ending the HIV Epidemic: Equitable Access, Everyone’s Voice,” emphasizing the need to address health inequities.

Close-up image of hands administering blood test (© Martin Mugo Muiga/Horec Kenya)
A patient receives HIV/AIDS testing and counseling in Kenya. (© Martin Mugo Muiga/Horec Kenya)

AIDS-related deaths dropped by 64% since the peak in 2004, and new infections dropped by 52% since the high point in 1997, according to the latest United Nations figures.

“These figures have declined markedly from their historic peaks — largely thanks to the U.S. government’s strong bipartisan global AIDS leadership and investment — but HIV continues to take a devastating toll on millions of people worldwide,” Dr. Angeli Achrekar, the acting U.S. global AIDS coordinator, wrote in September.

The U.S. government has invested nearly $100 billion in the global HIV/AIDS response, the largest commitment by any nation to address a single disease in history.

Controlling HIV in Africa

Through PEPFAR, the U.S. partnership with Africa has helped at least 15 African countries (and 20 countries worldwide) to control their HIV epidemics or reach their ambitious HIV treatment targets.

Image of red ribbon and map with text stating "Through PEPFAR, the U.S. and Africa have saved 21 million lives from HIV" (State Dept./S. Gemeny Wilkinson)
(State Dept./S. Gemeny Wilkinson)

Across Africa, the program supports 70,000 health care facilities, 3,000 laboratories and nearly 300,000 health care workers.

Nearly two decades of PEPFAR investment means many African nations also now have significantly greater health care infrastructure and capacity to fight HIV, Ebola, the H1N1 virus and COVID-19.

Fighting COVID-19

During COVID-19, PEPFAR-supported laboratories completed “tens of millions” of COVID-19 tests, Achrekar said. Thousands of PEPFAR-trained community health care workers got COVID-19 testing to those who are most in need.

Countries such as South Africa leverage the program’s health care resources for COVID-19 screening and prevention. Protecting people with HIV from COVID-19 is especially important since they are more likely to become seriously ill if they get infected.

The United States recently announced that it will host the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria’s Seventh Replenishment Conference in 2022. The fund supports local programs in more than 100 countries to end those diseases. It is a critical complement to PEPFAR. Since 2004, the United States has contributed $17 billion, the fund’s largest donor.