How Many People Have Died of HIV?

Despite reversals in AIDS deaths, challenges remain

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Advances in HIV treatment have led to a steep decline in HIV-related deaths around the world. In 1992, HIV was the leading cause of death among men age 25 to 44 in the United States.

By 2019, it dropped to the ninth leading cause of death in people 25 to 34 and the 10th leading cause for those 35 to 44. Similar declines have been seen even in the hardest-hit parts of Africa.

Tulip rests on the engraved names of people who have died of AIDS on the Circle of Friends memorial
Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

Overall, deaths from HIV have fallen by 51% during the last 20 years, moving from the world’s 8th leading cause of death in 2000 to 19th in 2019. Even so, in low-income countries, it still remains among the 10 leading causes of death.

This article will discuss the current data on HIV deaths, how they've changed over time, and efforts to reduce them further.

AIDS Death in 2020

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 33 million people have died of HIV since the start of the pandemic. In 2020, 37.7 million people were living with HIV, and around 680,000 died. As grim as these figures are, that's still down from the 1.3 million people who died of HIV just 10 years earlier.

HIV deaths remain high in sub-Saharan Africa, which accounts for more than half of all infections worldwide. Other countries in Central Africa, Asia, and South America also continue to experience a higher rate of HIV-related deaths.

In 2020, the 20 countries with the highest number of HIV deaths were:

  1. South Africa: 71,000
  2. Mozambique: 54,000
  3. Nigeria: 53,000
  4. Indonesia: 38,000
  5. Kenya: 25,000
  6. United Republic of Tanzania: 24,000
  7. Uganda: 23,000
  8. Zimbabwe: 22,000
  9. Cameroon: 18,000
  10. Thailand: 18,000
  11. Zambia: 17,000
  12. Cote d'Ivoire: 16,000
  13. Ghana: 14,000
  14. Angola: 14,000
  15. Democratic Republic of Congo: 13,000
  16. Malawi: 13,000
  17. South Sudan: 9,900
  18. Ethiopia: 11,000
  19. Brazil: 9,900
  20. Myanmar: 7,800

Recap

More than 33 million people have died of HIV since the start of the global pandemic. Sub-Saharan Africa continues to account for the lion's share of HIV infections and deaths worldwide.

Deaths in the US

In the United States, more than 700,000 adults and children have died of HIV-related complications since the start of the epidemic in 1981.

Today, more than 1.2 million people are living with HIV in the United States, with more than 35,000 new infections occurring each year. Men who have sex with men (MSM) account for 70% of all new infections. Black people account for 42% of all new infections although they make up just 13% of the U.S. population.

In their latest report, the Department of Health and Human Services reported that 15,815 people with HIV died of any cause in the United States in 2019. Of those, 5,044 were believed to have died of HIV-related complications.

As a sign of hope, the rate of HIV deaths in the United States fell by nearly half from 2010 to 2017.

Recap

Of the estimated 1.2 million people living with HIV in the United States, around 5,000 died of HIV-related complications in 2019. Since the start of the pandemic in 1981, over 700,000 adults and children have died.

Gains and Losses

The reduction in HIV deaths worldwide corresponds to the reductions in new HIV cases. Some of the greatest gains have been seen in East Africa and Southern Africa, where HIV deaths have been on the decline since 2010.

The opposite is true in over 50 countries around the world where infection rates continue to climb. This includes countries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia where the infection rate increased by 27% between 2010 and 2018. Rates have also increased in parts of the Middle East and North Africa.

Some of these increases are due to high rates of injecting drug use. As opposed to most parts of the world where sex is the main route of infection, shared needles are considered the main route of infection in places like Russia.

Recap

While the HIV infection rate has been on the decline even in hardest-hit parts of Africa, other countries have seen increases. This includes Russia, where injecting drug use, not sex, is the main route of infection.

The Way Forward

As of 2021, 27.4 million people living with HIV were on antiretroviral therapy, up from eight million in 2010. While this leaves over 10 million people still untreated, the United Nations intends to narrow the gap with their ambitious 90-90-90 strategy, which aims to end the pandemic by 2030.

The primary goals of the 90-90-90 strategy were meant to be met by 2020, namely:

  • Diagnosing 90% of people living with HIV worldwide
  • Placing 90% of the diagnosed people on treatment
  • Ensuring 90% of those on treatment have an undetectable viral load

While many countries were able to meet these targets, the strategy fell short overall. By the end of 2020, a total of 81% of people were diagnosed, 67% were treated, and 59% achieved an undetectable viral load. Declining financial support from wealthier countries continues to hinder the United Nations' efforts.

The United States fared no better by comparison. While 87% of people living with HIV were diagnosed in the U.S., only 66% received care and only 57% achieved an undetectable viral load.

Recap

Today, over 27 million people with HIV are on antiretroviral therapy. A push to treat the remaining 10 million has been hindered by dwindling financial support from wealthier nations.

Summary

Since the start of the global pandemic, over 33 million adults and children have died of HIV, Even so, the death rate worldwide has dropped by more than 50% in the last decade. This includes many of the hardest-hit countries in Africa.

Global efforts to end the pandemic by 2030 have led to increased rates of testing and treatment among the 37.7 million people living with HIV. Even so, targets have fallen short. Increased global support is needed to meet the 2030 goals, but dwindling financial aid from wealthy countries continues to hinder the effort.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is antiretroviral therapy?

    Antiretroviral therapy involves taking multiple HIV medicines daily. While antiretroviral therapy doesn't cure HIV, it can lower the virus to undetectable levels where it can do the body little harm.

  • Where did HIV come from?

    HIV is thought to have originated in Central Africa where it jumped from monkeys to humans (probably due to the consumption of monkey meat). Studies suggest that the virus may have spread to humans as early as the late 1800s. HIV is believed to have arrived in the United States sometime in the 1970s.

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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.
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