New UNAIDS data ‘should sound alarm bells’

A woman wearing a white and blue top © Frontline AIDS
Nahimana, a mother of two, works at a market and also sells sex in order to provide for her children.

New data from the United Nations’ joint programme on HIV and AIDS should be a wake-up call that progress made in recent years to tackle the global pandemic is at imminent risk of going into reverse, according to the world’s largest partnership of HIV organisations.

In 2014, UNAIDS set Fast Track targets by which the world would reduce both the number of new HIV infections and AIDS-related deaths to below 500,000 annually by 2020. However, new infections have not decreased for the past two years, with 1.7 million people contracting the virus annually.

There has also been a sharp increase in the proportion of new infections among marginalised groups – gay and bisexual men, transgender women, sex workers and people who use drugs. In many countries these populations are frozen out of efforts to prevent and treat HIV and are still heavily criminalised.

Christine Stegling, Executive Director at Frontline AIDS, said:

“This data should be ringing alarm bells in statehouses and health ministries worldwide. Last year there were warning signs that new infections were flatlining, but now we can see HIV prevention is badly off-track. Even worse, funding for HIV is drying up fast as the world turns its attention elsewhere. In many countries prevention services have disappeared overnight because of COVID-19, and our fear is that, unless governments and donors wake up now, we will see that curve turn sharply upwards.

“There are also serious challenges emerging on access to HIV treatment and to bringing down AIDS-related deaths. Last year, 690,000 people died with AIDS – the lowest number since 1993, but still far off target. On top of these lives lost, millions of people living with HIV now face the threat of treatment interruptions as a result of COVID-19, as well as the loss of livelihoods and food supplies. Governments should be asking themselves why, in the rush to tackle one pandemic, they are prepared to risk lives in another.”

The UNAIDS report highlights growing evidence that people living with HIV are more at risk of serious illness and death if they contract COVID-19, a situation compounded further by sudden interruptions to health services and supplies of medication during the COVID-19 crisis.

Recent modelling by UNAIDS and the World Health Organization predicted that AIDS-related deaths in sub-Saharan Africa may double within the next year if the COVID-19 crisis is allowed to disrupt vital supplies of anti-HIV medication.

Hundreds of HIV organisations have already signed Frontline AIDS’ call to action for the global community to focus on three clear actions throughout the COVID-19 response: Sustain progress made on ending AIDS, help communities Adapt their HIV responses to tackle COVID-19, and Protect human rights. Read more at

Key figures from the report

  • In 2019, there were around 1.7 million new HIV infections (no change on the previous year) and 690,000 deaths from AIDS-related illness.
  • In 2019, 62% of new infections were among marginalised groups, a significant increase on the previous year (54%).
  • It is estimated that failure to meet the Fast Track targets on HIV prevention has resulted in 3.5 million additional HIV infections and 820,000 additional deaths.
  • Since 2017, global funding for HIV and AIDS has decreased by 7%, despite the total funding for global health issues remaining static.


COVID-19HIV preventionUNAIDS