On 1 December the global community commemorates World AIDS Day, remembering the estimated 36.3 million people who have lost their life to the disease while raising awareness of the AIDS pandemic which continues to affect the estimated 37.7 million people living with HIV/AIDS across the world.
While new global infections of HIV have continued to decline in recent years, infections among key populations have come to represent a larger and larger proportion of all new global infections, as key populations now account for 65% of all new HIV infections. Among them, people who inject drugs accounted for 9% of new infections in 2020; meanwhile, people in prisons and other closed settings are 6 times as likely to be living with HIV as compared to the general population.
For the second year in a row, we are witnessing COVID-19’s collision with an HIV pandemic that has infected an estimated 79.3 million people since it first emerged 40 years ago. The world is still coping with recurrent and emerging disease outbreaks, with unequal consequences driven by interlinked vulnerabilities, disparities and inequalities that have disrupted lives and left deep scars. The intersection of COVID-19 and HIV has compounded harms and risks for the world’s most vulnerable populations – they were among the first to lose their livelihoods, and continue to face more limited access to health and social services.
UNODC, as the UNAIDS convening agency for the key populations of people who use drugs and people in prisons, is committed to ending AIDS as a global pandemic by 2030 through supporting evidence-informed, human-rights based interventions and HIV prevention, treatment and care for people who use drugs and people in prisons and other closed settings. This commitment has been reinforced this year by the adoption of both the new UNODC Strategy 2021-2025 and the new UNAIDS Global AIDS Strategy 2021-2026. The UNODC Strategy, in the context of addressing the ongoing AIDS pandemic, seeks to strengthen access to prevention, treatment, and care among UNODC’s mandated key populations of people who use drugs and people in prisons and other closed settings, while the Global AIDS Strategy emphasizes the importance of ending inequalities and centering people and communities as crucial factors that will be decisive in the effort to end AIDS.
Putting people and communities at the center of efforts to combat the AIDS pandemic is a key part of UNODC’s work. UNODC has stepped up partnerships with community-led organizations and is supporting, funding and empowering communities and civil society, including networks of people who use drugs, so they can meaningfully participate all aspects of the design, implementation, and monitoring and evaluation the delivery of HIV, health and social protection services. There is compelling and comprehensive evidence that harm reduction – including opioid agonist therapy and needle and syringe programmes – improves the health of people who inject drugs. It is safe and cost-effective. Additionally, when people who use drugs have access to harm reduction services, they are more likely to take an HIV test, and if found to be living with HIV, enroll in and adhere to HIV treatment. COVID-19 revealed even more clearly just how vital harm reduction services are for people who use drugs. These services provide not only life-saving commodities and care, but also equally essential human and social connections. Once again, community-led organizations have proven creative and resilient, finding solutions to protect people who use drugs.
Poor access to prevention interventions exposes prison populations to heightened risks of HIV transmission. UNODC supports the provision of preventive commodities for people living and working in prison in many of its high-priority countries. By partnering with CSOs, UNODC helps countries implement the Nelson Mandela Rules on prison management and the Bangkok Rules on the treatment of women in prison, and to bolster access to health for all in prison settings.
UNODC joins with its partners in solidarity on World AIDS Day 2021 in pursuit of our common goal: End inequalities. End AIDS. End Pandemics.