How HIV May Spread Over The Next 15 Years

In 2013, about 35 million people lived with HIV worldwide, a number that is comparable with the population of Canada. Due to better treatment methods, the number of deaths caused by AIDS-related illnesses is on the decline, along with the number of new infections. The recent success is fragile, however.

UNAIDS, the United Nations program dedicated to the fight against HIV, recently warned that new infections could rise again if HIV prevention and treatment approaches remained at 2013 levels. The map above shows which regions and groups of people could be particularly threatened in low- and middle-income countries by 2030 in that case.

According to the scenario, the majority of new infections may be in Africa, where heterosexuals would account for the biggest group of those newly affected, followed be female sex workers, their clients, as well as children. In Asia, homosexuals, female sex workers and their clients, as well as heterosexuals are expected to be equally threatened by AIDS in total numbers. The Middle East and South America would follow with much lower numbers of newly infected people.

Between 1990 and 2013, the number of people living with HIV increased especially in the Southern Hemisphere as well as some European countries. UNAIDS estimates that more than 39 million people have died of AIDS-related illnesses since the start of the epidemic, most of them in low- and middle-income countries.

On World AIDS Day, marked this Monday, UNICEF, the United Nations’ agency for children, also warned that while there has been a drop in AIDS-related deaths between 2005 and 2013, one core demographic has not seen such a decline: those ages 10 to 19. HIV was the second-leading cause of death among adolescents worldwide in 2012, according to the WHO.

More optimistic observers believe the HIV epidemic will sharply decline over the next decades. A new report by the advocacy group One, which was released Monday, declared that for the first time in 30 years, the world had reached a “tipping point” in the fight against HIV.

“We’re not saying the end of Aids is near but we have reached an important milestone where, for the first time, we are getting ahead of the disease,” Erin Hohlfelder, health policy director for One, was quoted as saying by theFinancial Times. The report was released Monday to mark World Aids Day.

According to the group, fewer people became infected with HIV — the human immunodeficiency virus, which leads to AIDS — than gained access to drugs against the virus in 2013. About 2.3 million people gained access to HIV treatment programs last year, compared with 2.1 million new infections. The group also said that antiretroviral drugs, which are used to fight the virus, are now available to 13.6 million people worldwide.

Currently, HIV is roughly 28 times as common among people who inject drugs and 19 times as common among men who have sex with men, compared with the average. Sex workers are 12 times as likely to be infected by the virus.

To protect those who are most marginalized by the virus, three goals need to be achieved, according to the group One: First, funds to fight the disease need to be increased to address a shortfall of $3 billion a year.

Second, stigmatized groups with limited access to treatment need to be reached. And third, the international community should be aware that current promising developments will not necessarily be a tipping point for all countries and that some nations and regions will continue to need more support than others.

If all those goals were to be achieved, the prevalence of HIV could look more like this by 2030, according to the United Nations: