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HIV and AIDS Overview

While significant progress has been made in both prevention and treatment worldwide, an estimated 34 million people are living with HIV and AIDS. The majority are in sub-Saharan Africa. We are committed to prevention efforts to halt the spread of the virus and to ensuring that people affected are supported to live full and healthy lives.‌

Group of School Children with red umbrellas spelling out an AIDS message

The impact of HIV and AIDS

Over three decades have passed since the HIV and AIDS pandemic first came to world attention. Since then, it has had a devastating impact on the lives of individuals, families and communities and, as a consequence, on the social and economic development of countries where there are high numbers of people living with HIV and AIDS.  

Progress is being made

But great progress has also been made during this time. People have come together to fight the epidemic. The 2012 UNAIDS World AIDS Day Report (PDF) shows that there were 700,000 fewer new HIV infections across the world in 2011 than in 2001.  

The number of new HIV infections worldwide each year continues to drop and in a number of African countries the proportion of the population infected with HIV is declining. Particularly welcome is a steady reduction in the rate of transmission from HIV-infected pregnant women to their newborn children.

Quality of care and access to treatment available has improved enormously. There are now 8 million people receiving treatment for HIV.

Challenges remain

More than 34 million people worldwide are now living with HIV and AIDS.  Almost two-thirds live in sub-Saharan Africa where the epidemic has resulted in the deaths of at least one million people annually since 1998 and has left 14.8 million children orphaned. It is estimated that of the 7,000 new infections which occur every day, 70% occur in Africa.

While progress has been made, in many parts of the world people living with HIV and AIDS continue to experience stigma and discrimination, which impacts on many aspects of their lives.

CHildren dancing during an AIDS awareness event

Women and girls are bearing the highest burden

HIV and AIDS is the world’s leading cause of death in women aged between 15 and 44. And women comprise 60% of HIV-positive people in sub-Saharan Africa.  

Mothers with HIV are particularly vulnerable to malnutrition, which can affect their own health as well as the transmission of the virus  to their child.

Poverty can lead women and girls to engage in sex work in exchange for food or money. This greatly increases their risk of contracting HIV.

And the burden of caring for those who are infected often fall s to women and girls, with girls are often taken out of school to perform caring duties.  

Poverty and hunger drive the disease

Poor nutrition makes communities more vulnerable to both infection with HIV and the development of AIDS once infected. Undernutrition also leads to a weakened immune system and an increased risk of infection, including by HIV. Progression to AIDS for a person with HIV is quicker if that person is not adequately nourished with a balanced diet. This is a vicious cycle, which can continue indefinitely unless interrupted.

A global effort is underway

Many organisations, including, governments, aid agencies, churches and businesses are actively involved in combating HIV. The global community, led by UNAIDS , the lead UN agency on HIV and AIDS, aims to achieve universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support by 2015. Their strategy Getting to Zero: Zero new infections; Zero deaths; and Zero stigma and discrimination has wide support, including support from Ireland.

Our response

We work at national and global level with international organisations, governments, civil society and local communities to address the needs of people living with AIDS and to prevent the spread of the virus.

There were 700,000 fewer new HIV infections across the world in 2011 than in 2001

As well as addressing the links between poverty and HIV in all of our programmes, we provide over €100 million each year to tackle HIV and AIDS and other communicable diseases. This is in line with our commitment to achieving the Millennium Development Goal 6, which is aimed at combating HIV and AIDS, malaria and other diseases.

Guided by our HIV and AIDS Strategy, we are contributing to the achievement of this goal by focusing on the following priorities: 

Supporting effective national responses 

Our assistance is targeted at our partner countries most affected by the pandemic including Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Mozambique, South Africa, Lesotho, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi. We assist in the development and implementation of policies and programmes that strengthen the national response to the pandemic.

Ensuring  that people affected by the disease have access to treatment and care

Access to antiretroviral treatment for people living with HIV and AIDS means that they and their families can live full and healthy lives. Through our partnership with the Clinton Foundation, we have contributed to increased access to treatment services for many thousands of people in Mozambique and Lesotho.   

Strengthening prevention efforts

We support national programmes that ensure people have access to prevention programmes. Effective school-based education programmes are an example of our initiatives to promote HIV prevention from an early age.

Influencing global policy and practice

We ensure high-level political commitments translate into action at global, regional and national level. We use our position as board members of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria to ensure that global polices are responsive to the needs of the poorest people and communities and that resources are used effectively.

Learning from research

In responding effectively to the global epidemic, it is important to strengthen knowledge and evidence of what works. We invest in research that focuses on improving the health outcomes of those living with HIV and AIDS and the development of new products aimed at halting the spread of virus.

Read more about the impact of HIV and AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa.

Download the UNAIDS Factsheet on the sub-Saharan region (PDF, 412.2kb) to learn more about the impact of HIV and AIDS in the region and the progress that is being made in tackling the problem.