On December 1st, the global community unites to commemorate World AIDS Day, showing support for those living with and affected by HIV, and to remember those who have lost their lives to AIDS. This year in particular, the COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare how critically interlinked our health is with issues such as social inequality, human rights, stigma and discrimination, economic security, and political will and stability.
The theme of World AIDS Day this year is “Global solidarity, shared responsibility”. The COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated that, during a pandemic, no one is safe until everyone is safe. We all have a part to play in addressing the dual pandemics of COVID-19 and HIV/AIDS, in order to successfully eliminate them both as a public health threat.
There were approximately 38 million people living with HIV/AIDS in 2019, with an estimated 1.7 million people acquiring HIV in the year, marking a 23% decrease in new HIV infections since 2010. In Singapore, latest figures released in June this year showed 323 new cases of HIV infection reported among residents in 2019, bringing the total number of HIV-infected residents to 8,618 as of end of 2019, of whom 2,097 had passed away. The annual incidence of new infections locally has decreased overall by about 25% when compared to 2007 to 2017.
This decrease of new HIV infections is a result of the concerted and coordinated efforts of both government and community-led initiatives, but there is still much that can be done. In 2014, UNAIDS set an ambitious goal of eradicating the HIV epidemic by 2030. This involved a set of targets called the “90-90-90” vision, which stated that by 2020:
- 90% of people living with HIV would know their diagnosis
- 90% of those diagnosed with HIV would be on antiretroviral therapy (ART)
- 90% of those on treatment would have achieved viral suppression
Singapore has made significant improvements towards the last two goals, with approximately 89% of people diagnosed with HIV on treatment and 94% of those achieving viral suppression; however, we are still relatively lacking in our progress towards the first target, with only an estimated 72% of people living with HIV who have been diagnosed.
We know that early diagnosis leads to early treatment and better outcomes. Knowing their HIV status early will also help to prevent the spread of infection to others. Providing access to better information and testing for HIV, increasing awareness and uptake of Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), and ensuring long term compliance to antiretroviral therapy (ART) by people living with HIV are some of the primary facets of eradicating the HIV epidemic.
As we approach the end of a tumultuous year, the impact of COVID-19 has forced us to view our global health responses, including the HIV/AIDS response, in a different way. We must now be more committed than ever to ensure no individual or community is left behind – healthcare must be funded and accessible to all, stigma must be eliminated and vulnerable populations offered social protections, and public health systems must be strengthened through investment and sound government policy.
As the WHO has so accurately and succinctly captured:
“Now is the moment for bold leadership for equal societies, the right to health for all and a robust and equitable global recovery. This World AIDS Day, join us in calling on countries to step up their efforts to achieve healthier societies. This World AIDS Day let us demand global solidarity and shared responsibility.”