HIV has been diagnosed in all countries all over the world. The region of sub-Saharan Africa is most affected, with nearly 1 in every 20 adults living with HIV.
Hovedinngangen til Sokoine University of Acriculture (SUA) i Morogoro, Tanzania.
A clear message to the students at the entrance of the Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA) in Morogoro, Tanzania.
Photo: Ken Opprann

There is no cure for HIV, but effective treatment with antiretroviral drugs can control the virus so that people with HIV can enjoy healthy and productive lives.

HIV has claimed 36 million lives. Tuberculosis (TB) remains the leading cause of death among people living with HIV.

Key facts

  • HIV has been diagnosed in all countries all over the world.
  • In 2012, 35.3 million people were living with HIV globally.
  • Worldwide, 2.3 million people became newly infected with HIV in 2012, down from 3.4 million in 2001. The number of new HIV infections per year has fallen by 33% since 2001.
  • The region of sub-Saharan Africa is most affected, with nearly 1 in every 20 adults living with HIV. 70% of all people living with HIV reside in this region. Among young people aged 15 to 24, 2.5 % of women and 1.2 % of men in this region are living with HIV.
  • The number of children infected has dropped by more than 50%; 260.000 children became infected with HIV in 2012, down from 550.000 in 2001.
  • HIV has claimed 36 million lives. AIDS-related deaths have fallen by 30% since the peak in 2005. In 2012, 1.6 million people died from AIDS-related causes worldwide.
  • Diagnosis of HIV infections is usually made through blood tests detecting the presence or absence of HIV antibodies.
  • There is no cure for HIV infection. However, effective treatment with antiretroviral drugs can control the virus so that people with HIV can enjoy healthy and productive lives.
  • In 2012, around 9.7 million people living with HIV received antiretroviral therapy (ART) in low- and middle-income countries. This represents 34 % of people who are eligible for treatment, according to WHO guidelines for when people should start ART.
  • The global spread of HIV reached its peak at the end of the 1990s. However, the number of persons living with HIV continues to rise due to more people being treated. 
  • Tuberculosis (TB) remains the leading cause of death among people living with HIV. TB-related deaths among people living with HIV has fallen by 36% since 2004.

The Problems

  • HIV is transmitted through unprotected sexual intercourse (anal or vaginal), transfusion of contaminated blood, sharing of contaminated needles, and between a mother and her infant during pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding.
  • HIV targets the immune system and weakens people's defense systems against infections and some types of cancer. 
  • A weakened immune system results in increased susceptibility to a wide range of infections and diseases that people with healthy immune systems can fight off. 
  • The most advanced stage of HIV infection is AIDS, which can take from 2 to 15 years to develop depending on the individual. AIDS is defined by the development of certain cancers, infections, or other severe clinical manifestations.

The Causes

HIV targets the immune system and weakens people's surveillance and defence systems against infections and some types of cancer. As the virus destroys and impairs the function of immune cells, infected individuals gradually become immunodeficient.

While anybody can become HIV infected, people in a situation of vulnerability are more susceptible to becoming infected, such as young women, women who experience violence, persons who inject drugs, men or transsexuals who have sex with men, and persons who sell sex.

The Solutions

Individuals can reduce the risk of HIV infection by limiting exposure to risk factors. Key approaches for HIV prevention, which are often used in combination, include:

  • Male and female condom use and a reduction in number of sexual partners
  • Testing and counselling for HIV and sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
  • Voluntary medical male circumcision
  • ARV based prevention
  • Harm reduction for injecting drug users by using sterile injecting equipment, including needles and syringes, for each injection 
  • Elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV (eMTCT)
  • Mother-to-child transmission (MTCT) can be prevented if both the mother and the child are provided with antiretroviral drugs throughout the stages when infection could occur

Suggested actions, international consensus and way forward

The Political Declaration on HIV and AIDS: Intensifying Our Efforts to Eliminate HIV and AIDS , was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2011. Key UN agencies have since developed global strategies and actions, which have received broad consensus.

The UNAIDS 2011-15 Strategy “Getting to Zero” has a vision of the “Three Zeros”:

  • Zero new HIV infections – through comprehensive prevention efforts
  • Zero HIV related deaths – through expansion of treatment and treatment quality
  • Zero discrimination – advancing human rights and gender equality

The WHO Global health sector strategy on HIV/AIDS 2011-2015 , outlines four strategic directions to guide actions by WHO and countries for five years:

  • Optimize HIV prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care outcomes
  • Leverage broader health outcomes through HIV responses
  • Build strong and sustainable health systems
  • Address inequalities and advance human rights

Drawing from the 2011 Political Declaration, the following ten specific targets for 2015 were developed to guide collective action:

  1. Reduce sexual transmission by 50%
  2. Reduce HIV transmission among people who inject drugs by 50%
  3. Eliminate new infections among children and substantially reduce the number of mothers dying from AIDS-related causes
  4. Provide antiretroviral therapy to 15 million people
  5. Reduce the number of people living with HIV who die from tuberculosis by 50%
  6. Close the global AIDS resource gap and reach annual global investment of US$ 22 billion to US$ 24 billion in low- and middle-income countries
  7. Eliminate gender inequalities and gender-based abuse and violence and increase the capacity of women and girls to protect themselves from HIV
  8. Eliminate stigma and discrimination against people living with and affected by HIV by promoting laws and policies that ensure the full realization of all human rights and fundamental freedoms
  9. Eliminate restrictions for people living with HIV on entry, stay and residence
  10. Eliminate parallel systems for HIV-related services to strengthen the integration of the AIDS response in global health and development efforts

Norwegian policy and support

Norwegian Policy in the area of HIV-AIDS is addressed in the Government’s white paper Global health in foreign and development policy (Meld. St. 11 (2011-2012)) , which highlights the need for targeted global effort in this area. The white paper and other policy documents delineates the following government actions as it relates to HIV-AIDS:

  • Contribute to efforts to combat HIV globally.
  • Strengthen efforts and research related to communicable diseases in developing countries, with an emphasis on building capacity and competence. This includes strengthening the capacity of national health systems to carry out preventive work.
  • Further develop broad partnerships between multilateral organizations, national institutions, the private sector and civil society to combat communicable diseases. This includes organizations of those affected by these diseases, and cross-sector efforts, with particular focus on the link between HIV and tuberculosis.
  • Contribute to improving living conditions and quality of life for HIV-positive persons, and to normalizing their status in society.
  • Continue to give priority to HIV/AIDS efforts with an emphasis on the rights perspective and the prevention and elimination of mother-to child transmission.
  • Promote the rights of vulnerable groups, including the decriminalization of homosexuality, highlight the links between sexual and reproductive rights and HIV infection, and encourage national health systems to give due emphasis to HIV infection among injecting drug users.
  • Seek to foster greater acceptance in the international community of the need for and the benefits of sex education for young people as a preventive measure against the spread of HIV/AIDS.

The Norwegian government’s HIV support goes through UNAIDS, the Global Fund and other multilateral partners, The Swedish-Norwegian Regional Team for HIV and SRHR, as well as through Norwegian and international NGOs. Norway also supports a newly established fund, the Robert Carr Civil Society Network Fund aimed at regional and global networks, particularly working for key populations. In addition, Norway has been actively engaged in global AIDS diplomacy to develop a good global response to the epidemic.

The government stresses the importance of integrated health services, which should include services related to HIV and AIDS. Integration with other reproductive and sexual health services is particularly important.

The rights perspective is central to the government’s policy on HIV. Particular emphasis is given to women, children, young people and key populations, such as sexual minorities, sex workers and injecting drug users, and their access to relevant services and information. Young people should play an active role in developing a response to the epidemic.

The Swedish-Norwegian Regional Team for HIV and Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights in Africa represents a coordinated approach to HIV on a regional level (see short film below).

Norway will continue to play an active role on the boards of UNAIDS, the Global Fund, UNITAID and the Robert Carr Civil Society Network Fund.

Norad's work in this area

  • Norad, as the Norwegian government’s Agency for Development Cooperation, strives to be a centre of excellence in matters relating to global health, poverty and development. This is done in close collaboration with national and international academic institutions and technical development partners.

    Norad provides technical expertise, contributing actively to evidence discussions and is at the forefront internationally in priority areas associated with global health (focusing on the health-related MDGs 1c, 4, 5 & 6), including HIV-AIDS, and where rights - and gender aspects are tightly embedded.
  • Norad administers grant allocations to several international and national health civil society organizations working on HIV-AIDS and sexual and reproductive health and research, as well as the Robert Carr Civil Society Network Fund.
  • Norad also supports research and development work, for instance through support to the international AIDS Vaccine Initiative and the International Partnership for Microbicites.
  • Norad also supports networks and work to strengthen the role of young people, and to address dialogues on religion and sexual and reproductive health and rights.
  • Norad participates in Board meetings of the Global Fund, UNAIDS and the Robert Carr Fund.

HIV medicines save lives

Sometimes negative is positive. Young Musonda has escaped the virus his mother carries thanks to the medication she received while pregnant.

Mitigating the impact of HIV in Southern Africa

Norway and Sweden have cooperated on the issue of HIV and AIDS in the southern and eastern Africa since 2001, supporting among others orphans, grandparents and young people living with HIV. Instead of working in single countries, the work has been conducted on a regional level, which has resulted in positive outcome.
Published 11.02.2014
Last updated 16.02.2015