How Many People Die From HIV Each Year?

In the early days of the AIDS epidemic in the early 1980s, roughly half of people infected with HIV in the United States died of an AIDS-related condition within two years. With the introduction of combination antiretroviral therapy in 1996, the HIV mortality rate plummeted.

Today, people living with the disease can enjoy normal to near-normal life expectancy, even in countries where infection rates are high.

A single tulip rests on the engraved names of people who have died of AIDS on the Circle of Friends memorial before a service at the National AIDS Memorial Grove December 1, 2009 in San Francisco
Justin Sullivan / Getty Images News

So effective are current HIV therapies that the United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) reported a 60% drop in that the rate of HIV-related deaths since the peak of the pandemic in 2004. In fact, by 2016, HIV was no longer on the World Health Organization's list of top 10 causes of deaths—the first time that this has occurred since the 1990s.

Even so, in low-income countries where access to health care is lacking, HIV still remains among the most common causes of death, even above stroke, tuberculosis, malaria, and preterm infant mortality.

With increased surveillance and a greater push toward universal drug coverage, UNAIDs and others are hoping that the number of HIV-related deaths will continue to decrease even in the most vulnerable populations.

HIV Deaths in the United States

In the United States, no less than 675,000 Americans have died since the first cases were diagnosed back in 1981.

While strides have been made to reduce the number of new infections and HIV-related deaths, the United States still has the highest HIV prevalence (0.3%) compared to all other high-income, industrialized countries, with approximately 1.2 million Americans currently living with the disease.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were 16,350 deaths in people with HIV in the United States in 2017. That's a significant decrease from the over 40,000 deaths reported at the height of the epidemic in 1995.

Despite the advances, there remains a clear disparity in the populations affected by the disease in the United State. Among some the key risk factors affecting mortality rates are geography, sexuality, and race.

Geographic Location

In 2018, HIV-related deaths in the United States occurred as follows:

  • 47% in the South
  • 23% in the Northeast
  • 17% in the West
  • 12% in the Midwest
  • 2% in U.S. territories like Puerto Rico and Guam

This is explained, in part, by the fact that the South has the highest poverty rate and lowest median household income compared to other regions of the United States. Moreover, nearly half of all Americans without health insurance live in the South.

Access to government health care also plays a role. According to a 2019 study in the American Journal of Public Health, many of the states with the highest HIV infection rates are those that have not adopted Medicaid expansion, depriving vulnerable populations of HIV-specific care they need.

Men Who Have Sex With Men

Men who have sex with men (MSM) account for 70% of all new HIV infections in the United States and accounted for 50% (7,905 of 15,807) HIV-related deaths reported in the U.S. 2016.

In addition to physiological vulnerabilities to infection (via anal sex), high rates of homophobia and stigmatization drive many MSM to avoid HIV testing, treatment, and care. These factors translate to a higher rate of HIV mortality.

According to a 2011 study in the American Journal of Public Health, MSM with HIV have as high as a 130-fold risk of dying from an AIDS-related complication compared to men who exclusively engage in heterosexual sex.

African-Americans

African-Americans are disproportionately affected by HIV. In 2017, they accounted for nearly half of all HIV-related deaths (7,053) in the United States, 92% of all new infections among heterosexuals, and 80% of all new infections among MSM.

According to a report issued by the CDC in 2016, African-American MSM have no less than a 50% risk of getting HIV over a lifetime.

A multitude of intersecting risk factors—including poverty, high rates of unemployment, and cultural stigmas—contribute to higher rates of death in African-American communities compared to other ethnic or racial populations.

Global HIV Mortality

Since the start of the epidemic in the 1980s, approximately 74.9 million people worldwide have been infected with HIV. Of them, 32 million (roughly 43%) have died.

In 2018, UNAIDS reported an estimated 770,000 people died of HIV worldwide, the majority of whom were from sub-Saharan Africa. The United States accounted for around 16,000 of these deaths.

While the number of deaths has dropped steeply since 2004 when 1.95 million deaths were reported, HIV still affects certain populations disproportionately and remains a major cause of illness and death.

A snapshot of the HIV mortality rate from 2010 to 2018 illustrates the advances made in some, but not all, of the hardest-hit countries.

Global HIV-Related Deaths—Top 15 Countries
  Country 2018 2010 2000 Most Recent Trend
1 South Africa 71,000 140,000 100,000
2 Mozambique 54,000 64,000 40,000
3 Nigeria 53,000 72,000 78,000
4 Indonesia 38,000 24,000 19,000
5 Kenya 25,000 56,000 19,000
6 Tanzania 24,000 48,000 80,000
7 Uganda 23,000 56,000 85,000
8 Zimbabwe 22,000 54,000 120,000
9 Thailand 18,000 27,000 54,000
10 Zambia 17,000 26,000 62,000
11 Côte d'Ivoire 16,000 24,000 44,000
12 Cameroon 15,000 22,000 19,000
13 Brazil 15,000 15,000 15,000
14 Ghana 14,000 17,000 18,000
15 Angola 14,000 10,000 4,8000

Rate of New Infections

Per surveillance reports from UNAIDS, it is estimated that there were 37.9 million people living with HIV globally as of the end of 2018. Of these, approximately 1.7 million were newly infected.

These remain sobering figures, in part because infection rates are not declining at the pace needed to effectively end the pandemic. In fact, between 2010 and 2018, the rate of infections dropped by only 16%, and a number of "hotspots" around the world experienced an increase.

In Russia and parts of Eastern Europe and Central Asia, the rate of new infections are reported to be increasing due in part to the lack of access to HIV-specific care and treatment.

Meanwhile, in countries like South Africa, which accounts for 7.7 million of the world's HIV cases, an estimated 240,000 new infections occurred in 2018 despite impressive declines in the previous decade.

Even in the United States, the annual incidence of infections remained stagnant for many years until the widespread use of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PreP) and other preventive measures gradually reduced the rate from 50,000 in the early part of the century to just under 40,000 today.

Goals and Challenges

Contributing to declines is a concerted effort by UNAIDS to implement its 90-90-90 initiative wherein the following goals are intended to be met by 2030:

  • 90% of people with HIV will be diagnosed
  • 90% of those diagnosed will be placed on antiretroviral therapy
  • 90% of those on therapy will achieve an undetectable viral load

Underpinning the UNAIDS strategy is evidence that achieving an undetectable viral load reduces a person's risk of infecting others to 0%.

Still, challenges remain. Chief among them are high infection rates among women ages 15 to 24 in many African countries. Moreover, HIV testing among younger Africans remains low while AIDS-related deaths are disproportionately high compared to other age groups.

In Russia and Central Asia where HIV infection rates are on the rise, injecting drug use, rather than sexual intercourse, has become a major mode of HIV transmission.

The discrimination of injecting drug users and LGBT people, coupled with a lack of HIV-specific care and substance abuse treatment, are likely to fuel infection rates—and mortality rates—in those regions in the coming years.

A Word From Verywell

With increasing access to antiretroviral therapy, the risk of illness and death had dropped profoundly in people living with HIV. To remain healthy and live a long, healthy life, it is important to get tested if you think you have HIV and to start treatment as soon as you do.

If you are in need of HIV information or referrals in your area, contact your state's HIV/AIDS hotline, many of which are available 24 hours a day.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Schneider E, Glynn MK, Kajese T, et al. Epidemiology of HIV/AIDS --- United States, 1981--2005. MMWR. 2006 Jun 2:55(21):589-92.

  2. Katz IT, Maughan-Brown B. Improved life expectancy of people living with HIV: Who is left behind?. Lancet HIV. 2017 Aug 1;4(8):PE324-PE326. doi:10.1016/S2352-3018(17)30086-3

  3. United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS. Global HIV & AIDS statistics — 2020 fact sheet.

  4. World Health Organization. The top 10 causes of death. May 24, 2018.

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC fact sheet: Today's HIV/AIDS epidemic. August 2016.

  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Estimated HIV incidence and prevalence in the United States 2010–2016. February 2019.

  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. HIV surveillance report: Statistics overview. Updated November 21, 2019.

  8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. HIV in the United States by region. Updated July 2, 2020.

  9. U.S. Census Bureau. Income and Poverty in the United States: 2017. September 2018.

  10. Gai Y, Marthinsen J. Medicaid expansion, HIV testing, and HIV-related risk behaviors in the United States, 2010-2017. Am J Public Health. 2019;109(10):1404-12. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2019.305220

  11. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. HIV and gay and bisexual men. Updated November 12, 2019.

  12. Cochran SD, Mays VM. Sexual orientation and mortality among US men aged 17 to 59 years: results from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey III. Am J Public Health. 2011;101(6):1133-8. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2010.300013

  13. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. HIV and African Americans. Updated January 30, 2020.

  14. Hess KL, Hu X, Lansky A, Mermin J, Hall HI. Lifetime risk of a diagnosis of HIV infection in the United States. Ann Epidemiol. 2017;27(4):238-243. doi:10.1016/j.annepidem.2017.02.003

  15. World Health Organization. Number of deaths due to HIV/AIDS: Estimates by country. Updated September 11, 2019.

  16. Holt E. Disputed figures do not hide Russia's HIV epidemic. Lancet HIV. 2019 Apr 1;6(4):PE216-7. doi:10.1016/S2352-3018(19)30085-2

  17. United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS. Country: South Africa. December 1, 2019.

  18. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. HIV prevention progress report, 2019. Revised July 2019.

  19. Rodger A, Cambiano V, Bruun T, et al. Risk of HIV transmission through condomless sex in serodifferent gay couples with the HIV-positive partner taking suppressive antiretroviral therapy (PARTNER): final results of a multicentre, prospective, observational study. Lancet. 2019 Jun 15;393(10189):2428-38. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(19)30418-0.

  20. Birdthistle I, Tanton C, Tomita A, et al. Recent levels and trends in HIV incidence rates among adolescent girls and young women in ten high-prevalence African countries: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Lancet Glob Health. 2019 Nov 1:7(11):PE1521-E1540. DOI:10.1016/S2214-109X(19)30410-3

  21. El-Bassel N, Shaw SA, Dasgupta A, Strathdee SA. Drug use as a driver of HIV risks: re-emerging and emerging issues. Curr Opin HIV AIDS. 2014;9(2):150-5. doi:10.1097/COH.0000000000000035