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UN Chief on Why the World Failed Its HIV Targets for 2020

Photo by Ricaldo Donaldson from Pexels

Infections spiked last year and AIDS-related deaths were higher than hoped.

Five years ago, the United Nations General Assembly set goals for HIV infections and deaths in 2020 — and the world failed both targets.

The General Assembly in 2016 called for 500,000 new HIV infections and 500,000 AIDS-related deaths in 2020. But last year, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, infections swelled to 1.7 million, over three times the target. Deaths related to AIDS reached 690,000, well over the goal.

Now, UN officials are working to explain last year's failures and set targets for the future.

“It is imperative to break out of an increasingly costly and unsustainable cycle of achieving some progress against HIV but ultimately not enough to bring about an end to the pandemic,” Secretary-General António Guterres stated in a recent report, released in preparation for an upcoming UN General Assembly meeting on AIDS. 

UN officials still believe the world can eradicate HIV and AIDS by the end of the decade, setting goals of 370,000 new infections and 250,000 AIDS-related deaths in 2025. Winnie Byanyima, executive director of UNAIDS, cited a need for "evidence-informed strategies and human rights-based approaches."

Secretary-general Guterres, a former prime minister of Portugal, said in his report that gender norms are complicating their targets, with stigma discouraging women from accessing prevention tools and HIV care. Vulnerable communites, like LGBTQ+ people, migrants, and sex workers, are also not receiving adequate information on HIV facts and how they can prevent and treat the disease. Guterres wants a massive investment in reaching these groups in low- and middle-income countries, with a global committment of $25 billion by 2025.

“Inequalities are the key reason why the 2020 global targets were missed. By ending inequalities, transformative outcomes can be achieved for people living with HIV, communities and countries," Guterres said in his report.

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Neal Broverman