We Want you to Know… Every December 1, the U.S. Government commemorates World AIDS Day by reflecting on its response to the global fight against HIV/AIDS and honoring the millions of people who have died of AIDS-related illness worldwide.

World AIDS Day (WAD) was first recognized in 1988, World AIDS Day falls on December 1 each year. World AIDS Day is dedicated to spreading awareness of the AIDS pandemic spread by the spread of HIV infection, and to mourning those who have died of the disease. An estimated 40 million people worldwide have died of AIDS since 1981. Today, approximately 38.4 million [33.9 million–43.8 million] people are living with HIV globally. Each week, worldwide, around 4900 young women aged 15–24 years become infected with HIV and in sub-Saharan Africa, women and girls accounted for 63% of all new HIV infections. https://www.unaids.org/en/resources/fact-sheet) . In the U.S. women account for approximately  1 in 5 people living with HIV across the U.S. yet in Massachusetts (MA), 29% of persons living with HIV are women and representing 27% of new HIV diagnoses.  What is most significant is that HIV infection is attributed to heterosexual contact (83%) nationwide.

What is noteworthy is that HIV can be transmitted via the exchange of a variety of body fluids from infected people, such as blood, breast milk, semen and vaginal secretions. HIV can also be transmitted from a mother to her child during pregnancy and delivery. Individuals cannot become infected through ordinary day-to-day contact such as kissing, hugging, shaking hands, or sharing personal objects, food or water.

HIV disease can be managed by treatment regimens composed of a combination of antiretroviral (ARV) drugs. Current antiretroviral therapy (ART) does not cure HIV infection but suppresses viral replication and allows an individual’s immune system recovery to strengthen and regain the capacity to fight off opportunistic infections and some cancers.

Since 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) has recommended Treat All: that all people living with HIV be provided with lifelong ART, including children, adolescents, adults and pregnant and breastfeeding women, regardless of clinical status or CD4 cell count. By June 2022, 189 countries have already adopted this recommendation, covering 99% of all people living with HIV globally. In addition to the Treat All strategy, WHO recommends a rapid ART initiation to all people living with HIV, including offering ART on the same day as diagnosis among those who are ready to start treatment.

It is important to note that people with HIV who are taking ART and are virally suppressed do not transmit HIV to their sexual partners. Early access to ART and support to remain on treatment is therefore critical not only to improve the health of people with HIV but also to prevent HIV transmission.

Thanks to better treatments, people living with HIV are now living longer—and with a better quality of life—than ever before. If you are living with HIV, it’s important to make choices that keep you healthy and protect others.

If you are living with HIV, having an undetectable viral load level means that the amount of HIV in your blood is so low it can’t be measured. It is the goal of HIV treatment and is important for your health. People with HIV who take HIV medicine as prescribed and get and keep an undetectable viral load will not transmit HIV to their sex partners  (more information about viral load see our next post U=U).

It’s important to start medical care and begin HIV treatment as soon as you are diagnosed with HIV. Taking medicine to treat HIV, called antiretroviral therapy or ART, is recommended for all people with HIV. Taking medicine to treat HIV slows the progression of HIV and helps protect your immune system. The medicines can keep you healthy for many years.

If you’re taking medicine to treat HIV, visit your health care provider regularly and always take your medicine as directed to keep your viral load (the amount of HIV in the blood and elsewhere in the body) as low as possible.