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5 Reasons Why We Need to Keep Funding the Fight Against HIV/AIDS

When scientists first discovered HIV in 1983, the mysterious disease was a death sentence when it was first reported within gay communities in the US. As the US and other countries failed to contain the virus, HIV/AIDS rapidly spread, primarily affecting gay individuals, intravenous drug users, and low-income communities.

Over the last three decades, governments and public health organizations have made tremendous progress in containing the epidemic and enabling people diagnosed with HIV to manage their illness. In fact, someone who is HIV-positive receiving treatment,
and in optimal health — meaning they don’t do drugs and are free of other infections — may live to be in their late 70s now. Today, there are several
medications available to effectively treat the immune deficiency virus, while other drugs called PrEP protect people from contracting the virus.

But there is still no cure.

Despite progress in the fight against HIV/AIDS, the virus continues to spread, infecting, at least 37 million people worldwide. About 30% of them don’t even know they have the virus.

In many places, testing HIV-positive is still akin to a death sentence. A lack of affordable treatment and misinformation about the disease and how it is spreads has closely tied its prevalence to poverty.

But HIV/AIDS does not have to be a death sentence anymore. And even though significant progress has been made toward managing and eradicating the disease, there is still a great need for continued research and funding.

These five reasons demonstrate why countries around the world need to step up funding to eradicate the “pandemic of the poor” once and for all.

1/ The Fight Is Not Over for Tens of Millions of People

Despite the advances in HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention, more than 1 million people died from AIDS-related causes worldwide in 2016, according to the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF). In the same year, another 1.8 million people contracted HIV and over 20 million cases went untreated.

Funding for treatment, prevention, and education ensures that more people know their status, fewer people contract the fatal illness, and even fewer unknowingly pass it on to their partners.

Read More: Whoopi Goldberg Spoke Powerfully About HIV/AIDS at the 2017 Global Citizen Festival

2/ Education and Awareness Are Key to Ending the Epidemic

In the fight against HIV/AIDS, knowledge is power.

Education campaigns enable individuals to learn the consequences of HIV/AIDS, find out how the viruses spread and discover ways to protect themselves against contracting the virus.

Knowledge empowers people who have already been diagnosed with HIV to improve their quality of life by seeking treatment and learning how to manage their illness. Community education also combats toxic stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV. The stigma is especially strong among those who think that only gay men or substance abusers can contract HIV. In fact, anyone who is sexually active is at risk of contracting HIV and should use available prevention tools, such as condoms and PrEP, to protect themselves against HIV, according the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

3/ Countries Must Commit to the UN’s Ambitious AIDS 90-90-90 Goal

By 2020, the United Nations aims to ensure that 90% of all people living with HIV will know their status, 90% of all people with diagnosed HIV will be receiving sustained antiretroviral therapy, and 90% of people receiving antiretroviral therapy will experience viral suppression — meaning that their “viral load” is undetectable because of medication that slows the rate at which the virus duplicates.

But a large proportion of the population is not yet on target to reach those goals.

In June, about 53% of HIV-positive individuals had access to treatment — the first time a majority of people around the world had such access. Yet, only 43% of children with HIV received antiretroviral treatment.

Read More: Fired After Forced HIV Tests, Ugandan Women Head to Court

To accomplish and exceed the ambitious 90-90-90 targets, HIV treatment access has to nearly double. That will take a concerted effort by and funding from national and local governments.

4/ HIV/AIDS Is Still a Huge Problem in Sub-Saharan Africa

Though public health organizations and funders  have done a tremendous job spreading awareness and countering misinformation about HIV/AIDS, almost 20 million people in sub-Saharan Africa are still living with the virus.

In 2016, 19 of the 20 countries with the highest rates of HIV/AIDS were located in Africa, according to the Central Intelligence Agency’s World Factbook.

The situation was most dire in Swaziland, where more than a quarter of people aged 15 to 49 are living with HIV/AIDs. More than 20% of people aged 15 to 49 in Lesotho and Botswana experience HIV/AIDS, while more than 18% of people aged 15 to 49 in South Africa have the virus.

Read More: How Global Fund Is Working to Eradicate AIDS, TB, and Malaria

5/ HIV/AIDS Continues to Be a Crisis Throughout the US and Canada

Gay and bisexual men as well as transwomen of color in the US have a higher incidence of HIV transmission than the overall rate in many developing countries, including countries in sub-Saharan Africa contending with HIV/AIDS epidemics.

In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently estimated that about half of black men who have sex with men (MSM) and a quarter of Latino MSM will contract HIV/AIDS in their lifetime.

The American South is the epicenter of the HIV crisis for MSM of color. The region contains just 37% of the US population but accounts for 54% of the country’s HIV/AIDS cases. In 2014, nearly 3,000 people in Southern states died from an AIDS-related illness.

People experiencing HIV/AIDS as well as advocates and public health workers say prejudice against LGBTQ individuals, a lack of affordable healthcare and limited HIV testing exacerbate the crisis.

The statistics are staggering, but the rampant spread of HIV is not just affecting the US.

In remote parts of Canada, HIV transmission have increased by 800% due to a lack of awareness about HIV status and limited resources. “People in Saskatchewan are not just contracting the virus, they’re getting really sick and they’re dying from it,” Canadian physician Ryan Meili told Global Citizen in October. “We still don’t have anything resembling a plan that's proportional to the size of the problem.”

But there is hope — with continued funding for HIV/AIDS research and programs that focus on raising awareness and providing accessible treatment, communities can not only prevent the spread of the virus, but increase their ability to contain it.

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We've made progress in the fight to stop HIV, but there's more work to be done.

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