Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) continues to be a major global public health issue, having claimed about 40.4 million (32.9- 51.3 million) lives since it was identified in 1981. Approximately 630,000 (480,000-880,000) people die from HIV-related causes and 1.3 million (1-1.7 million) people become newly infected with HIV every year, with 46% of all new infections occurring among women and girls. Sub-Saharan Africa is the most affected region and accounts for almost 70 percent of the global total of new HIV infections. Women, men who have sex with men, transgenders, intravenous drug users and sex workers are particularly vulnerable to the disease.

HIV targets the immune system and weakens people’s defence systems against infections and some types of cancer. As the virus destroys and impairs the function of CD4 (immune) cells, infected individuals gradually become immunodeficient. Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS), the most advanced stage of HIV infection, can take 2 to 15 years to develop depending on the individual. AIDS is defined by the development of certain infections (e.g. tuberculosis, cryptococcal meningitis), cancers (e.g. lymphomas, Kaposi’s sarcoma), or other severe clinical manifestations.

HIV can be transmitted via the exchange of a variety of body fluids from infected individuals, such as blood, breast milk, semen and vaginal secretions. There is no cure for HIV infection. HIV can be suppressed by combination antiretroviral therapy (ART) consisting of 3 or more antiretroviral (ARV) drugs. ART does not cure HIV infection but controls viral replication within a person’s body and allows an individual’s immune system to strengthen and regain the capacity to fight off infections. 24% of people living with HIV don’t have access to treatment and can infect others.

Serological tests, such as rapid diagnostic tests (RDTs) or enzyme immunoassays (EIAs), detect the presence or absence of antibodies to HIV-1/2 and/or HIV p24 antigen. When these tests are used according to a validated testing algorithm, HIV infection can be detected with great accuracy.

The cure for viral diseases often takes the form of a vaccine. There are more than 20 HIV vaccine clinical trials ongoing.