7 things to know about HIV and AIDS today

The annual AIDS Walk New York will be in full force on May 20. For over 30 years, AIDS Walk NY, the largest single-day AIDS fundraising event in the world, has been raising money and awareness to combat HIV and AIDS by bringing much needed visibility and resources to the ongoing, global HIV and AIDS crisis.

HIV, AIDS, and the people affected by them are often still misrepresented or erased in our cultural narrative. GLAAD has an ongoing commitment to shift this narrative.

Here are some important facts to educate yourself on HIV and AIDS in 2018!

HIV used to be a death sentence. Now it doesn’t have to be.

Access to treatment gives people living with HIV or AIDS opportunities for longer, quality lives. If you, or someone you know might have been exposed, you can access testing and treatment services here. Don’t hesitate, you could save your life!

The “epidemic” isn’t over.

According to the United Nations:

  • 36.7 million people globally were living with HIV in 2016.
  • 1.8 million people became newly infected with HIV in 2016.
  • 1 million people died from AIDS-related illnesses in 2016.
  • 76.1 million people have become infected with HIV since the start of the epidemic.
  • 35.0 million people have died from AIDS-related illnesses since the start of the epidemic.

That hardly sounds over. Just because it isn’t part of our national conversation does not mean we can ignore the staggering numbers of people that HIV and AIDS still affects.

There is treatment, but it isn’t always accessible.

Only around 53% of all people living with HIV had access to treatment in 2016. Some 54% of adults aged 15 years and older living with HIV had access to treatment, but just 43% of children aged 0–14 years had access. In affluent countries and communities, treatment might be accessible, but the global proportions of HIV and AIDS means that poorer countries are still grappling with the devastating effects of HIV and AIDS on their communities, despite a cure being available. We need to work to distribute care more effectively, especially to those who need it the most.

The lack of conversation about HIV and AIDS is still dangerous.

According to Avert, of the 36.7 million people living with AIDS, 30% do not know their status. While in some areas, the number of affected people is diminishing, in other areas, it is rising. GLAAD’s 2015 “HIV & AIDS in the news” guide had this to say:

“As people living with HIV enjoy longer and fuller lives in the United States, we are hearing fewer of their stories in the media. And all too often, the way the media portrays HIV today stigmatizes those who are living with the virus. The media plays a critical role in telling the story of HIV and AIDS, and it faces the challenge of reporting on prevention without stigmatizing those living with HIV. Indeed, as important as prevention is, according to many HIV and AIDS advocates, stigma is the greatest driver behind the epidemic. Stigma is what prevents people from taking preventive measures, getting tested, and getting into and staying in treatment. By stigmatizing people with HIV, we are actually making all of society more vulnerable.”

Destigmatizing HIV and AIDS is still an important step in prevention. That means we need recognition and accountability from the media. These days, a big part of what kills people is simply the stigma around HIV and AIDS. Various disclosure laws, which essentially criminalize those who do not disclose their HIV status to sexual partners, combined with negative media portrayals of HIV and AIDS keep people trapped between illegality and shame. The lack of conversation due to this double bind keep people from getting tested because they don't know they can survive. As the classic ACT UP slogan goes, SILENCE = DEATH.

The disease discriminates against more people than you think.

Many kinds of people live with HIV and AIDS, and they are often members of underrepresented and marginalized communities. The Black community being the most disproportionately affected by HIV, and the transgender community, bisexual+ community, and women, to many a few examples, are also often excluded from the global conversation about HIV and AIDS, despite often being the most at risk for the disease. In 2016, only around 76% of pregnant women living with HIV had access to antiretroviral medicines to prevent transmission of HIV to their babies. That number should be 100%.

The global effort to end HIV and AIDS is succeeding.

Since 2010, new HIV infections among adults declined by an estimated 11%, from 1.9 million to 1.7 million in 2016. New HIV infections among children have also declined by 47% since 2010, from 300,000 in 2010 to 160,000 in 2016. AIDS-related deaths have fallen by 48% since the peak in 2005. This is a fight we can win.

Here’s how you can support AIDS Walk NY:

Through donating our time, resources, and energy, we can make a difference in the fight to end HIV and AIDS. You can donate to AIDS Walk here, and register to march here. AIDS Walk NY has been a consistent force for the de-stigmatization of HIV and AIDS for over 30 years. Do your part, and head out to the walk on May 20!

Check out GLAAD's guide for reporting on HIV & AIDS in a new era of treatment and prevention, then learn more at glaad.org/hiv.