The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) targets the immune system and weakens people's 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. Immune function is typically measured by CD4 cell count. Immunodeficiency results in increased susceptibility to a wide range of infections, cancers and other diseases that people with healthy immune systems can fight off.

    The most advanced stage of HIV infection is Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (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 HIV/AIDS Programme contributes to the reduction of the HIV/AIDS burden in the WHO Africa Region through support to member states to adopt and implement cost effective prevention, treatment, care and support interventions.

    World AIDS Day

    On 1 December 2018, WHO will join global partners to commemorate World AIDS Day under the theme “Know your status”. This will also be an occasion to celebrate the 30th anniversary of World AIDS Day (WAD30) – a pioneering global health campaign first initiated by WHO in 1988. WHO Regional Offices will create additional regionspecific messages and materials under the global theme.

    WHO advocacy and communication for World AIDS Day 2018 will aim to achieve the following objectives:

    1. urge people to know their HIV infection status through testing, and to access HIV prevention, treatment and care services; and
    2. urge policy-makers to promote a “health for all” agenda for HIV and related health services, such as tuberculosis (TB), hepatitis and noncommunicable diseases.

    More on World AIDS Day 2018

    World AIDS Day 2017

    World AIDS Day 2016

    World AIDS Day 2015

    World AIDS Day 2014

    World AIDS Day 2012

    World AIDS Day 2011

    World AIDS Day 2010

    ICASA 2017

    International conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa - 4-9 December 2017

    The 19th International Conference on AIDS and STIs in Africa is taking place in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire from 4-9 December 2017. The conference is an opportunity to renew this global commitment by drawing the world’s attention to the fact that the legacy is now under threat as a result of the global economic downturn.

    WHO is organizing a number of key session on topics such as men who have sex with men and other key populations, paediatric treatment, pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), HIV drug resistance, differentiated service delivery models, elimination of mother to child transmission of HIV.

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    Elimination of Mother-to-child Transmission

    The African Region bears the highest burden with more than 90% of new infections among children. Untreated maternal syphilis results in congenital syphilis in over half of affected pregnancies and can lead to early fetal loss, premature birth, stillbirth, low birth weight and newborn deaths.

    In 2016, 110 000 new HIV infections occurred among children and 350 000 cases of congenital syphilis globally.

    WHO works together with partners to set global standards for HIV prevention, care and treatment for pregnant women, mothers and their children; and to develop evidence-based strategies and define global targets, baselines and indicators that promote the integration of PMTCT into maternal, newborn and child health services, thus strengthening health systems.

    More on Elimination of Mother-to-child Transmission


    Key Facts

    Africa is the most affected region by HIV/AIDS in the world, particularly among young women. 

    New HIV infections

    • New HIV infections for the East and Southern Africa Region were 800 000 in 2017, a 30% decrease since 2010.

    • New HIV infections for West and Central Africa were 370 000, a 8% decrease since 2010.

    People living with HIV

    • 19.6 million people were living with HIV in the Eastern and Southern Africa Region in 2017, among them 1,100,000 were adolescents, including 650,000 adolescent girls.

    • 6.1 million people were living with HIV in the West and Central Africa Region in 2017 among them 440,000 were adolescents, with 250,000 adolescent girls.

    Access to antiretroviral therapy (ART)

    • 12.9 million people in Eastern and Southern Africa were accessing treatment in 2017. This corresponds to 66% of the total estimated number of people living with HIV who have access to antiretroviral therapy; whereas 81% of people living with HIV know their status and 52% of those on treatment were virally suppressed.

    • 2.4 million people in Western and Central Africa were accessing treatment in 2017. This corresponds to 40% of the total estimated number of people living with HIV who have access to antiretroviral therapy; whereas 48% of people living with HIV know their status and 29% of those on treatment were virally suppressed.

    • In 2017, 59% of infants (aged 0-14) living with HIV in Eastern and southern Africa were accessing antiretroviral therapy

    • In 2017, 26% of infants (aged 0-14) living with HIV in Western and central Africa were accessing antiretroviral therapy

    AIDS-related deaths

    • In 2017, 380 000 people died from AIDS-related illnesses in the Eastern and Southern Africa Region, corresponding to 42% decrease since 2010. Adolescents both sex contributed to 22,000 among these deaths (6%)

    • In 2017, 280 000 people died from AIDS-related illnesses in the West and Central Africa Region, corresponding to 24% decrease since 2010. Adolescents both sex contributed 13,000 of these deaths.
    Signs and symptoms

    The symptoms of HIV vary depending on the stage of infection. Though people living with HIV tend to be most infectious in the first few months, many are unaware of their status until later stages. The first few weeks after initial infection, individuals may experience no symptoms or an influenza-like illness including fever, headache, rash or sore throat.

    As the infection progressively weakens the immune system, an individual can develop other signs and symptoms, such as swollen lymph nodes, weight loss, fever, diarrhoea and cough. Without treatment, they could also develop severe illnesses such as tuberculosis, cryptococcal meningitis, and cancers such as lymphomas and Kaposi's sarcoma, among others.


    HIV can be transmitted via the exchange of a variety of body fluids from infected individuals, such as blood, breast milk, semen and vaginal secretions. Individuals cannot become infected through ordinary day-to-day contact such as kissing, hugging, shaking hands, or sharing personal objects, food or water.

    Risk factors

    Behaviours and conditions that put individuals at greater risk of contracting HIV include:

    • having unprotected anal or vaginal sex;
    • having another sexually transmitted infection such as syphilis, herpes, chlamydia, gonorrhoea, and bacterial vaginosis;
    • sharing contaminated needles, syringes and other injecting equipment and drug solutions when injecting drugs;
    • receiving unsafe injections, blood transfusions, tissue transplantation, medical procedures that involve unsterile cutting or piercing; and
    • experiencing accidental needle stick injuries, including among health workers.

    Serological tests, such as RDTs or enzyme immunoassays (EIAs), detect the presence or absence of antibodies to HIV-1/2 and/or HIV p24 antigen. When such tests are used within a testing strategy according to a validated testing algorithm, HIV infection can be detected with great accuracy. It is important to note that serological tests detect antibodies produced by an individual as part of their immune system to fight off foreign pathogens, rather than direct detection of HIV itself.

    Most individuals develop antibodies to HIV-1/2 within 28 days and therefore antibodies may not be detectable early after infection, the so-called window period. This early period of infection represents the time of greatest infectivity; however HIV transmission can occur during all stages of the infection.

    It is best practice to also retest all people initially diagnosed as HIV-positive before they enrol in care and/or treatment to rule out any potential testing or reporting error.

    HIV testing services

    HIV testing should be voluntary and the right to decline testing should be recognized. Mandatory or coerced testing by a health-care provider, authority or by a partner or family member is not acceptable as it undermines good public health practice and infringes on human rights.

    Some countries have introduced, or are considering, self-testing as an additional option. HIV self-testing is a process whereby a person who wants to know his or her HIV status collects a specimen, performs a test and interprets the test results in private. HIV self-testing does not provide a definitive diagnosis; instead, it is an initial test which requires further testing by a health worker using a nationally validated testing algorithm.

    All HIV testing services must include the 5 C’s recommended by WHO: informed Consent, Confidentiality, Counselling, Correct test results and Connection (linkage to care, treatment and other services).


    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:

    1. Male and female condom use

    Correct and consistent use of male and female condoms during vaginal or anal penetration can protect against the spread of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. Evidence shows that male latex condoms have an 85% or greater protective effect against HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

    2. Testing and counselling for HIV and STIs

    Testing for HIV and other STIs is strongly advised for all people exposed to any of the risk factors. This way people learn of their own infection status and access necessary prevention and treatment services without delay. WHO also recommends offering testing for partners or couples. Additionally, WHO is recommending assisted partner notification approaches so that people with HIV receive support to inform their partners either on their own, or with the help of health care providers.

    3. Testing and counselling, linkages to tuberculosis care

    Tuberculosis (TB) is the most common presenting illness and cause of death among people with HIV. It is fatal if undetected or untreated and is the leading cause of death among people with HIV- responsible for 1 of every 3 HIV-associated deaths. Early detection of TB and prompt linkage to TB treatment and ART can prevent these deaths. TB screening should be offered routinely at HIV care services. Individuals who are diagnosed with HIV and active TB should be urgently started on TB treatment and ART. TB preventive therapy should be offered to people with HIV who do not have active TB.

    4. Voluntary medical male circumcision

    Medical male circumcision, when safely provided by well-trained health professionals, reduces the risk of heterosexually acquired HIV infection in men by approximately 60%. This is a key intervention supported in 14 countries in Eastern and Southern Africa with high HIV prevalence and low male circumcision rates.

    5. Antiretroviral (ARV) drug use for prevention

    5.1 Prevention benefits of ART

    A 2011 trial has confirmed if an HIV-positive person adheres to an effective ART regimen, the risk of transmitting the virus to their uninfected sexual partner can be reduced by 96%. The WHO recommendation to initiate ART in all people living with HIV will contribute significantly to reducing HIV transmission.

    5.2 Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) for HIV-negative partner

    Oral PrEP of HIV is the daily use of ARV drugs by HIV-uninfected people to block the acquisition of HIV. More than 10 randomized controlled studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of PrEP in reducing HIV transmission among a range of populations including serodiscordant heterosexual couples (where one partner is infected and the other is not), men who have sex with men, transgender women, high-risk heterosexual couples, and people who inject drugs.

    WHO recommends PrEP as a prevention choice for people at substantial risk of HIV infection as part of combination prevention approaches.

    5.3 Post-exposure prophylaxis for HIV (PEP)

    Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) is the use of ARV drugs within 72 hours of exposure to HIV in order to prevent infection. PEP includes counselling, first aid care, HIV testing, and administering of a 28-day course of ARV drugs with follow-up care. WHO recommendsPEP use for both occupational and non-occupational exposures and for adults and children.

    6. Harm reduction for injecting drug users

    People who inject drugs can take precautions against becoming infected with HIV by using sterile injecting equipment, including needles and syringes, for each injection and not sharing other drug using equipment and drug solutions. A comprehensive package of interventions for HIV prevention and treatment includes:

    • needle and syringe programmes;
    • opioid substitution therapy for people dependent on opioids and other evidence based drug dependence treatment;
    • HIV testing and counselling;
    • risk-reduction information and education;
    • HIV treatment and care;
    • access to condoms; and
    • management of STIs, tuberculosis and viral hepatitis.

    7. Elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV (EMTCT)

    The transmission of HIV from an HIV-positive mother to her child during pregnancy, labour, delivery or breastfeeding is called vertical or mother-to-child transmission (MTCT). In the absence of any interventions during these stages, rates of HIV transmission from mother-to-child can be between 15-45%. MTCT can be nearly fully prevented if both the mother and the child are provided with ARV drugs throughout the stages when infection could occur.

    WHO recommends options for prevention of MTCT (PMTCT), which includes providing ARVs to mothers and infants during pregnancy, labour and the post-natal period, and offering life-long treatment to HIV-positive pregnant women regardless of their CD4 count.

    In 2015, 77% (69–86%) of the estimated 1.4 (1.3-1.6) million pregnant women living with HIV globally received effective ARV drugs to avoid transmission to their children. A growing number of countries are achieving very low rates of MTCT and some (Armenia, Belarus, Cuba and Thailand) have been formally validated for elimination of MTCT of HIV. Several countries with a high burden of HIV infection are closing in on that goal.


    HIV can be suppressed by combination ART consisting of 3 or more ARV drugs. ART does not cure HIV infection but controls viral replication within a person's body and allows an individual's immune system to strengthen and regain the capacity to fight off infections.

    In 2016, WHO released the second edition of the "Consolidated guidelines on the use of antiretroviral drugs for treating and preventing HIV infection.” These guidelines present several new recommendations, including the recommendation to provide lifelong ART to all children, adolescents and adults, including all pregnant and breastfeeding women living with HIV, regardless of CD4 cell count.

    WHO has also expanded earlier recommendations to offer PrEP to selected people at substantial risk of acquiring HIV. Alternative first-line treatment regimens are recommended, including an integrase inhibitor as an option in resource-limited settings and reduced dosage of a key recommended first-line drug, efavirenz, to improve tolerability and reduce costs. By mid-2016, 18.2.0 million people living with HIV were receiving ART globally which meant a global coverage of 46% (43–50%).

    Based on WHO’s new recommendations, to treat all people living with HIV and offer antiretroviral drugs as an additional prevention choice for people at "substantial" risk, the number of people eligible for antiretroviral treatment increases from 28 million to all 36.7 million people. Expanding access to treatment is at the heart of a new set of targets for 2020 which aim to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030.

    WHO response

    In September 2015, WHO released a new policy recommendation known as Treat All. The policy removes all limitations on eligibility for Antiretroviral Therapy (ART) among people living with HIV, which means that all HIV infected /positive populations and age groups are now eligible for treatment.

    The policy also includes a recommendation that people at substantial risk of acquiring HIV should be offered preventive ART. This new recommendation builds on 2014 WHO guidance to offer a combination of antiretroviral drugs to prevent HIV acquisition, through pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), for men who have sex with men. Following further evidence of the effectiveness and acceptability of PrEP, WHO has now broadened this recommendation to support the offer of PrEP to other population groups at significant HIV risk, such as people who inject drugs. PrEP is an additional prevention choice based on a comprehensive package of services, including HIV testing, counselling and support and access to condoms and safe injection equipment. Expanding access to treatment is at the heart of a new set of targets for 2020 with the aim to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030. These targets include 90% of people living with HIV being aware of their HIV infection, 90% of those individuals receiving ART, and 90% of people on ART having no detectable virus in their blood. These three targets have collectively come to be known as the 90-90-90 target.

    Ending the AIDS epidemic in the African Region will require rapid acceleration of the response over the next five years and then sustained action through to 2030 and beyond. This can only be achieved through renewed political commitment, additional resources and technical and programmatic innovations.

    In June 2016, WHO released its Global Health Sector Strategy on HIV, 2016-2021. The strategy builds on public health achievements made in the HIV response and continues the momentum generated by the Millennium Development Goals and universal access commitments. The Sixty-sixth WHO Regional Committee for Africa adopted a Framework for Action on HIV/AIDS in the WHO African Region 2016-2020.

    World AIDS Day 2017

    This year's World AIDS Day theme is "Right to health". There is a significant progress in the African Region in the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS, but the right to health for all is not being realized. Young people, especially young women, continue to be at great risk of HIV infection. Children are often missed out, key populations such as sex workers, men who have sex with men and injecting drug users are not being reached, and men are also left behind. Countries in the West and Central African sub-regions still lag behind the rest of the continent. WHO and its partners are working with these member states to implement catch-up plans to accelerate HIV treatment.

    More on World AIDS Day 2017

    World AIDS Day 2016


    World AIDS Day on 1 December is a chance to unite against HIV, show support for people living with HIV/AIDS, and remember those who have died. This year the theme is “Hands up for HIV Prevention”. It highlights HIV prevention issues like access and the right to health, zero discrimination, testing and condoms in relation to specific groups such as adolescent girls and young women, key populations such as sex workers, and people living with HIV, to ensure no one is left behind.

    World AIDS Day 2015


    On 1 December 2015, the world is observing World AIDS Day to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS. The theme for this year’s commemoration is: “On the Fast-Track to end AIDS”.  Fast-tracking the AIDS response provides an opportunity to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030 as part of the Sustainable Development Goals. 

    It is encouraging that we have reached a defining moment in the HIV/AIDS response as a result of the remarkable progress in the scale up of prevention, treatment and care interventions for HIV in the African Region. The region has achieved the Millennium Development Goal 6 of halting and reversing the HIV/AIDS epidemic.  In 2014, close to 11 million people were receiving lifesaving antiretroviral treatment.  This has led to the number of AIDS related deaths reducing by nearly a half since 2005.  New infections have also reduced by 41% in the last 15 years, more than in any region in the world.  

    World AIDS Day 2014

    On World AIDS Day 2014, the World Health Organization will issue new recommendations to help countries close important gaps in HIV prevention and treatment services.

    The guidelines will include advice on providing antiretroviral drugs for people who have been exposed to HIV – such as health workers, sex-workers, survivors of rape. They also include recommendations on preventing and managing common opportunistic infections and diseases such as severe bacterial and malaria infections, cryptococcal meningitis and the many oral and skin infections that can affect people living with HIV.

    World AIDS Day 2013

    World AIDS Day on 1 December brings together people from around the world to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS and demonstrate international solidarity in the face of the pandemic. The day is an opportunity for public and private partners to spread awareness about the status of the pandemic and encourage progress in HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and care in high prevalence countries and around the world.

    Between 2011-2015, World AIDS Days will have the theme of "Getting to zero: zero new HIV infections. Zero discrimination. Zero AIDS related deaths". The World AIDS Campaign focus on "Zero AIDS related deaths" signifies a push towards greater access to treatment for all; a call for governments to act now. It is a call to honor promises like the Abuja declaration and for African governments to at least hit targets for domestic spending on health and HIV.

    World AIDS Day 2012: Getting to Zero

    Getting to Zero: Zero new HIV infections. Zero deaths from AIDS-related illness. Zero discrimination is the theme of World AIDS Day 2012. Given the spread of the epidemic today, getting to zero may sound difficult but significant progress is underway.

    In 2011, 2.5 million people were newly infected with HIV. An estimated 1.7 million people died. That is 700,000 fewer new infections worldwide than ten years ago, and 600,000 fewer deaths than in 2005.

    World AIDS Day 2011

    Celebration of the 2011 World AIDS Day in the WHO African Region

    The World Health Organization declared the first World AIDS Day in 1988. The Day, 1 December, quickly became established as one of the most successful commemorative days and is now recognized and celebrated by a diverse range of constituents every year around the globe. The Day continues to be one of the most visible opportunities for public and private partners to spread awareness about the status of the pandemic, renew commitments and engagement, and encourage progress in HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and care in high prevalence countries and around the world.

    World AIDS Day 2010

    World AIDS Day, which falls on 1 December, draws together people around the world to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS and demonstrate international solidarity in the face of the pandemic. The Day is one of the most visible opportunities for public and private partners to spread awareness about the status of the pandemic, renew commitments and engagement, and encourage progress in HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and care in high prevalence countries and around the world. The theme of the 2010 World AIDS Day is “Universal Access and Human Rights”.

    The latest UNAIDS report, released in November 2010, shows that the AIDS epidemic is beginning to change course as the number of people newly infected with HIV is declining and AIDS-related deaths are decreasing. Globally, new HIV infections have fallen by nearly 20% in the last 10 years, and AIDS-related deaths are down by nearly 20% in the last five years. At the end of 2009, 33.3 million people were estimated to be living with HIV. Sub-Saharan Africa continues to be the region most affected by the epidemic with 69% of all new HIV infections, 67 % of all people living with HIV and 72% of all AIDS-related deaths.

    Human rights are fundamental to any response to HIV/AIDS. The promotion and protection of these rights are necessary to empower individuals and communities to respond to the epidemic. World AIDS Day 2010 provides an opportunity to intensify efforts to ensure that the basic human rights of people living with HIV/AIDS are protected; and to continue to strive towards meeting the universal access targets for prevention, treatment and care.

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    World AIDS Day 2017

    1 December 2017

    World AIDS Day 2016

    1 December 2016