Across the world, HIV remains a significant public health concern. How many people die a year from AIDS? According to the most recent statistics from the World Health Organization, there were 680,000 HIV-related deaths in the year 2020, and more than 37 million people worldwide living with HIV.
In the US, HIV has been transformed from a disease that’s almost universally fatal into a manageable chronic disease, and HIV-positive people in the US now have a life expectancy approximately equal to that of the general population. This is because of the widespread use of antiretroviral therapy (ART), which is extremely effective against HIV.
Unfortunately, in some parts of the world, access to ART is much less common. This means that HIV-positive people are more likely to develop serious complications and even die of AIDS, the end stage of HIV infection.
HIV/AIDS around the world
Data from the World Health Organization show the number of HIV/AIDS cases per year around the world.
When looking at HIV/AIDS by country, by far the greatest number of infections are in Africa, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, where more than 25 million people are currently living with HIV. This region accounts for more than half of all HIV infections around the world.
Africa AIDS map
Because sub-Saharan Africa is the region with the highest HIV prevalence, it’s interesting to take a look at the HIV/AIDS percentage by country in this particular region. A recent study published in the prestigious journal Nature took a detailed look at the prevalence of HIV in various African countries. Here’s the series of maps that the authors of the study created:
The map at the top left maps the HIV rate by country, and each successive map takes a more and more detailed look at the prevalence of HIV in various areas. The prevalence is highest in the southern part of the continent, where prevalence rates were higher than 10%. There are also pockets of high prevalence in the eastern part of the continent. (Note that data for the gray regions of the map was not studied; sub-Saharan Africa is the region with the greatest prevalence, while North Africa is less of a hotspot.)
When was AIDS at its peak in the US?
The CDC has also published data about the prevalence of HIV in the US over time. In this HIV progression graph, they show the number of HIV infections, which have been calculated using statistical methodology to account for the fact that testing was not as widespread in the early days of the epidemic. (Now, testing is much easier to access, and can even be performed at home using a blood sample obtained by a small fingerprick.)
When looking at the number of HIV/AIDS cases by year, these data show that the peak of new infections occurred in the mid-1980s.
The AIDS death rate per year has been decreasing. This chart from the CDC shows the data for the US:
As you can see, the number of AIDS deaths per year has been steadily declining. This is likely due to the availability of effective treatments for HIV, although it remains the case that some people both in the US and around the world don’t have access to these treatments, and may not even realize that they’re infected. Getting a blood test is the only way to know for sure whether or not you’re infected with HIV, since it’s common for the virus not to cause any symptoms until late in the course of the disease.
Dwyer-Lindgren L, Cork MA, et al. Mapping HIV prevalence in sub-Saharan Africa between 2000 and 2017. Nature 2019 Jun;570(7760):189-193. doi: 10.1038/s41586-019-1200-9.
Global HIV Programme: HIV Data and Statistics. World Health Organization. https://www.who.int/teams/global-hiv-hepatitis-and-stis-programmes/hiv/strategic-information/hiv-data-and-statistics. Accessed 29 April 2022.
Global HIV & AIDS Statistics. United Nations. https://www.unaids.org/en/resources/fact-sheet. Accessed 29 April 2022.
HIV Statistics Center. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/statistics/index.html. Accessed 29 April 2022.
Today’s HIV/AIDS Epidemic. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/nchhstp/newsroom/docs/factsheets/todaysepidemic-508.pdf. Accessed 29 April 2022.