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The world leaders keeping HIV alive


The world leaders keeping HIV alive
Italy’s Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni; Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban; Andrzej Duda, Polish President; Russian President Vladimir Putin / Shutterstock

Italy’s Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni; Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban; Andrzej Duda, Polish President; Russian President Vladimir Putin/Shutterstock

The UN’s HIV leader says a backlash to human rights is hindering their goal of ending the disease.

The United Nations still believes AIDS can be mostly eradicated by 2030, but the organization’s head of AIDS programs said the goal is being undermined by a global backlash to LGBTQ+ people and other groups.

“This pushback — anti-human rights, anti-democratic, anti-gender equality — has put our work under threat,” Winnie Byanyima, executive director of UNAIDS, told Reuters in late November.

The nations that criminalize gay and bisexual people, sex work, and drug users are, generally, the places seeing upticks or flatlining of HIV infections, Byanyima said. The Ugandan-based leader also blamed the discouraging numbers on persistent HIV stigma, discrimination, and a lack of sex education.

The UN’s goal of ending AIDS this decade is still possible, but, “that’s not the same as saying it will be achieved.” Byanyima noted progress in Africa, but said other regions are backsliding, like eastern Europe. Nations like Poland, Hungary, and Russia are ruled by far-right leaders who often demonize and criminalize sexual minorities. Meanwhile, countries like Italy and Argentina have recently elected conservative leaders who often stigmatize people at risk of contracting HIV. Byanyima draws a direct line between these actions by world leaders and HIV’s persistence. Considering the reality of the current world order, the solution, according to Byanyima, is for all nations to support and fund local community organizations that provide HIV resources, including treatment and prevention services.

There were 39 million people living with HIV in 2022, with 1.3 million people newly infected. Nearly 30 million of those were on lifesaving antiretroviral treatment, according to data. As a result of the disparity between those infected and those on treatment, there were at least 630,000 AIDS-related deaths in 2022.

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Neal Broverman

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