The Fight Continues: World AIDS Day 2022

Infection Control Today, Volume 27, Issue 1

Infection Control Today® observes the 34th annual World AIDS Day by speaking to Ambassador Deborah Birx, MD, and looking back at what has been done and what the world still needs to do to fight HIV/AIDS.

Today, December 1st is World AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) Day. This year’s theme for World AIDS Day is “Putting Ourselves to the Test: Achieving Equity to End HIV.” World AIDS Day has been observed since 1988 to remember those lost to AIDS-related illness and to continue to fight to end the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) epidemic. Globally, there are currently 37.7 million people living with HIV/AIDS. While there has been significant progression in prevention and treatment, HIV continues to be a public health concern. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), HIV is largely an urban disease affecting metropolitan areas with 500,000 or more people in the United States. Today, thousands of individuals and organizations around the world are working together to raise awareness surround HIV/AIDS and increase efforts in the development of prevention, treatment, and care.

Infection Control Today® (ICT®) reached out to Ambassador Deborah Birx, MD, to get her input on this 34th observance. Birx is a world-renowned medical expert and leader whose long career has focused on HIV/AIDS immunology, clinical and basic immunology, infectious disease, pandemic preparedness, vaccine research, and global health. Birx served the United States as an Army Colonel and later, running some of the most high-profile and influential programs at the US CDC and US Department of State.

Birx has special insight in HIV/AIDs. In 2014, Birx oversaw the implementation of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) program and served as the United States global AIDS coordinator for presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump until 2020. She also served as the United States special representative for global health diplomacy from 2015 to 2021. Today, she joins us in celebrating World AIDS Day 2022.

Dr. Birx told ICT®, “World AIDS Day reminds us how we have worked together around the globe to change the course of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. We have learned the critical role of community. Misinformation and disinformation are battled by being on the ground. Meeting, listening, and dialoguing with community members from all walks of life. Not dismissing. Not blaming, but by investing in peer counselors and peer outreach and peer service delivery. We need to apply these same lessons to develop an effective response to COVID-19, so everyone can survive and thrive. Use today’s tools to control our current pandemics, and then we will be ready for the next pandemic.”

The WHO (World Health Organization) has several calls to action for World AIDS Day 2022. They include:

  • Improving the safety of working conditions in health care settings by ensuring there is appropriate and sufficient personal protective equipment (PPE) and hand hygiene items;
  • Speaking out against stigma and discrimination;
  • Ensuring essential HIV services are maintained in the community;
  • Supporting and empowering frontline health workers to deliver high-quality HIV services;
  • Focusing efforts to reach populations that are vulnerable to HIV;
  • Expanding high quality HIV services for youth at risk, adolescents, pregnant women, men who have sex with men.

The Biden-Harris administration released new public health strategies to end HIV/AIDS at home and abroad today. In his proclamation, President Joseph R. Biden Jr. stated, “I have asked the Congress for $850 million to increase the use of preexposure prophylaxis (PrEP), expand treatment, and fight the stigma that stops many people from getting care.” With the new 2023 strategies, the Biden-Harris administration will also work to remove barriers to employment with the Armed Forces and repeal or reform HIV criminalization laws, which can criminalize people with HIV for potentially exposing others to HIV with or without actual transmission or intent to transmit.

The Biden-Harris Administration also remains committed to implementing the National HIV/AIDS Strategy (NHAS) which accelerated efforts to end the HIV epidemic in the United States by 2030. The NHAS was implemented in August 2022 with four goals: prevent new HIV infections, improve HIV-related health outcomes, reduce disparities and health inequities, and establish a more coordinated effort to address the HIV epidemic among partners and stakeholders.

HIV can affect anyone regardless of their sexual orientation, race, gender, or age. AIDS is a chronic immune system disease caused by HIV. HIV is a sexually transmitted infection that can be spread by contact with infected blood, from infected mother to baby during pregnancy, birth, or breastfeeding, and through sex with an infected person. Risk factors for HIV/AIDS include injection drug use, having unprotected sex, having a sexually transmitted infection, and having certain jobs.

Many advancements in response to HIV/AIDS have been made, which include:

  • The CDC publishes an article in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) which marks the first official reporting of AIDS in 1981;
  • Scientists identifying the cause of AIDS in 1983;
  • Screening blood donations for HIV starting in 1985;
  • The first drug to treat HIV infection AZT (azidothymidine) made available in 1987;
  • The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves the female condom in 1993;
  • The FDA approves the first HIV home testing and collection kit and the first HIV urine test in 1996;
  • The CDC issues the first national treatment guidelines for the use of antiretroviral therapy in adults and adolescents with HIV in 1998;
  • The Obama Administration releases the first comprehensive National HIV/AIDS strategy for the United States in 2010.

The work is not done, however, and HIV/AIDs continues to be a global public health threat. Today, we honor those individuals we have lost to the disease, and those who are valiantly fighting against it right now.