UNAIDS reports that 19 million of the 35 million people living with HIV/AIDS today do not know they are infected. Number parallels the goals of the 20×20 Campaign, a new global treatment initiative to ensure that 20 million people are on lifesaving antiretroviral treatment by 2020. AHF calls for immediate action.
WASHINGTON (July 16, 2014) A new UNAIDS report released earlier today ahead of the 20th International AIDS Conference, which convenes next week in Australia, revealed that 19 million of the 35 million people living with HIV/AIDS today worldwide do not know they are infected with the virus. The news prompted AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) to call for immediate action, including a renewed focus on, and widespread scale up of HIV testing, linkage and access to lifesaving care and treatment globally.
“Looking at these UN numbers, an astounding 57% of the 35 million people living with HIV or AIDS worldwide today do not know that they are infected. This news must serve as a reality check and a wake up call: we cannot achieve global AIDS control and halt the spread of the virus without a radical overhaul of how we approach HIV testing, linkage and treatment access,” said Michael Weinstein, President of AIDS Healthcare Foundation. “Massive—and innovative—scale up of testing and linkage to care and treatment must now be the order of the day around the globe.”
“Ironically, the nearly 20 million number of people worldwide who do not know their HIV status parallels the numbers and goals of the 20×20 Campaign, an ambitious global treatment initiative to ensure that 20 million people are on lifesaving antiretroviral treatment by 2020,” said Terri Ford, Chief of Global Policy & Advocacy for AHF. “If we are to truly break the chain of new HIV infections worldwide, HIV testing must take center stage as a priority.”
The UNAIDS Gap Report also revealed, “…that as people find out their HIV-positive status they will seek life-saving treatment…Research shows that in sub-Saharan Africa, 76% of people on ART have achieved viral suppression, whereby they are unlikely to transmit the virus to their sexual partners.” The report emphasized, “… the need for equal access to quality HIV services as both a human rights and public health imperative.”
Release of the UNAIDS report also prompted AHF officials to reflect on the disproportionate amount of attention or focus that has recently been placed on pre-exposure prophylaxis, or ‘PrEP’ as a possible method of HIV prevention. “In 2013, there were 1.5 million AIDS deaths globally. Today, UNAIDS releases the dispiriting news that 19 million of the 35 million living with HIV/AIDS do not even know they are infected with the virus. Yet many in the AIDS community and the media remain disproportionately focused on PrEP,” added AHF’s Weinstein.
In November 2007, the World Health Organization made headlines when it revised its estimate of people living with HIV/AIDS worldwide from approximately 39 million down to 33 million. AHF noted in a statement at the time that the vast majority of people who are infected with HIV don’t know it, so there was actually no way to know if that new WHO figure was any more reliable than the previous estimation. “Let’s stop guessing and make routine testing worldwide a priority,” said AHF’s Weinstein in that 2007 statement.