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HIV and AIDS: Knowing the epidemic in order to beat it

No matter when you live, being diagnosed with HIV shouldn’t have to be a death sentence. Antiretroviral treatments keep people living with HIV healthy and suppress the virus to undetectable levels. Prevention strategies help stop transmission. Local organizations bringing awareness to communities impacted by the HIV epidemic have succeeded in saving lives and reducing the effect of HIV and AIDS.

Despite such efforts, the Global Burden of Disease study estimates the virus killed nearly 950,000 people in 2017. HIV robs many others of healthy years of life. Not all have access to treatment, or know how to access it. And global funding for HIV and AIDS has declined since 2013, compromising work to halt infections and to treat those living with HIV.

Good data supports targeted treatment and identifies the areas with the greatest need. A new open access paper published May 15 in Nature by the Local Burden of Disease team at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation maps HIV/AIDS prevalence across communities in sub-Saharan Africa at a fine geographic resolution. The study reveals variations within nations and regions that are masked by national-level data. These estimates are the most comprehensive to date; they show that the burden of HIV is far from monolithic. Dr. John Nkengasong, director of the Africa CDC, calls good data “the oxygen of a good national public health system in Africa.” There are many complicating factors in the fight against HIV and AIDS, but good data is one piece – a vital piece – of the puzzle. Creating a clearer picture of the epidemic provides a foundation for testing new interventions, pinpointing where work is successful, and helping more people live long, healthy lives. That clarity also serves as a reminder that being diagnosed with HIV shouldn’t have to be the beginning of the end.

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