Thirty years ago, scientists announced that the probable cause of AIDS had been found. Human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, would subsequently enter our lexicon and become synonymous — no matter where you lived — with death. Since then, more than 75 million people have acquired HIV and nearly 35.6 million have died of AIDS-related illnesses. With no cure in sight, it seemed that ending this epidemic would be a Sisyphean task.
But investments in AIDS research, prevention and treatment have yielded tremendous dividends. As a result, we have before us the opportunity to end one of the greatest public health crises in history.
More people than ever are receiving life-saving antiretroviral therapy, and are living healthier, longer lives. There have been historic declines in AIDS-related deaths worldwide. From 1996 to 2012, antiretroviral therapy averted 6.6 million AIDS-related deaths, including 5.5 million in developing countries. The annual number of new HIV infections has also dropped by 33% since 2001. In 26 countries, the rate of new HIV infections among young people (ages 15-24) decreased by 50% since 2001. For the first time, we have the ability to end the transmission from mother to child and to keep mothers alive.
Merely a decade ago, few believed they would see a cure in their lifetimes. Yet despite these promising developments, the epidemic is far from over. Of the 35.3 million people living with HIV, nearly two out of three living in developing countries are not on HIV treatment, either because they do not have access or do not know their HIV status. Effective outreach to those most at risk—and most in need—is critical.
While we now have the tools to begin to end the HIV epidemic, achieving an AIDS-free generation is still threatened by a considerable gap between available resources and the amounts needed to scale up high-impact interventions. Investing now in these interventions will not only accelerate progress in reducing AIDS-related deaths and new HIV infections, but it will also lower the long-term cost of the HIV response.