HIV infection


This picture depicts the structure of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). HIV is probably the major health problem existing in the world today.

Worldwide, there are more than 33 million people living with HIV in the world today.

The number of people living with HIV continues to rise due to population growth and, more recently, the life-prolonging effects of antiretroviral therapy.

Sub-Saharan Africa remains by far the worst affected region of the world, with 22.5 million people living with HIV at the end of 2006. Just under two thirds of all people living with HIV are in sub-Saharan Africa, as are more than half of all women living with HIV.

Among notable new trends are recent declines in national HIV prevalence among young pregnant women in two sub-Saharan African countries, Kenya and Zimbabwe, urban areas of Burkina Faso and similarly in Haiti. This decline in prevalence has occurred alongside indications of significant behavioural change – including increased condom use, fewer partners and delayed sexual debut.

HIV prevalence is increasing in some countries, notably China, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Vietnam and there are signs of HIV outbreaks in Bangladesh and Pakistan. The AIDS epidemic is affecting women and girls in increasing numbers. Globally, just under half of all people living with HIV are female.

In 2007, 15.4 million women are living with HIV globally. In Sub-Saharan Africa, women are infected more often and earlier than men. 61% of people living with HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa are women. However, in Eastern Europe, Central Asia and Latin America, young men are more likely to be infected than young women, although this is changing as HIV increasingly affects the general population.

In Australia, at December 2006, 26,267 people had been diagnosed with HIV infection and 10,125 people with AIDS. A cumulative total of 6,723 deaths had been attributed to HIV/AIDS.

The annual number of AIDS diagnoses in Australia declined from 672 in 1996 to 209 in 2001, and has remained relatively stable over the past four years at around 240 diagnoses. The decline in the number of AIDS diagnoses in 1996-2001 was due to the fall in HIV incidence that took place in the mid 1980s and to the use, since mid 1996, of effective antiretroviral treatment of HIV infection.

Transmission of HIV continues to be mainly through sexual contact between men, which was reported in more than 87% of cases of newly acquired infection diagnosed in 2001 to 2005.

The ABC recently transmitted a TV program documenting the first 25 years of the response to HIV in Australia. One of the interesting things that came out of the program was the observation that the organised response in Australia was quite different in tone to that in the US – leading to very different outcomes (much lower infection rates being the most obvious outcome). Australia’s response was to meet the crisis head on, and put into place education and prevention strategies for those most affected – gay men and IV drug users, particularly. I’m grateful to, and thankful for, the bravery and commitment of those who worked so hard to prevent the epidemic here.

Frequently asked questions on HIV/AIDS


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