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In 2011 the world commemorated 30 years of AIDS and the AIDS response.

In June 1981, scientists in the United States reported the first clinical evidence of a disease that would later become known as acquired immunodeficiency syndrome or AIDS. Its cause, the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), was identified in 1983. Thirty years later the AIDS epidemic has spread to every corner of the world and more than 60 million people have been infected with HIV.

HIV is found in the bodily fluids of a person who has been infected - blood, semen, vaginal fluids and breast milk. It can be transmitted through unprotected sexual contact.  It is also spread among people who inject drugs with non-sterile injecting needles, as well as through unscreened blood products. It can spread from mother to child during pregnancy, childbirth or breast feeding when the mother is HIV positive.

Over the ensuing decades, the rate of infection soared dramatically, as did the rate of fatalities.  But eventually, new antiretroviral treatment began to extend the lives of those who were infected. More than 5 million people had access to antiretroviral treatment in 2009, which has reduced AIDS-related deaths by more than 20% in the past 5 years.

Also in the past ten years at least 56 countries have either stabilized or reduced new HIV infections by more than 25%. New HIV infections have been reduced by nearly 20% and new HIV infections among babies have dropped by 25%—a significant step towards achieving virtual elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV by 2015.

The UN family has been in the vanguard of this progress.  Since 1996, its efforts have been coordinated by UNAIDS — the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS.  The Programme is co-sponsored by 10 UN system agencies:  UNHCR, UNICEF, WFP, UNDP, UNFPA, UNODC, the ILO, UNESCO, WHO and the World Bank.

In 2000, world leaders set specific goals to stop and reverse the spread of HIV at the General Assembly’s Millennium Summit.  A 2001 special session of the General Assembly expanded on that. Heads of State and Representatives of Governments issued the Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS which set out a series of national targets and global actions to reverse the epidemic. The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria was created in 2002. And in 2006, the Assembly held a high-level review of progress made since its special session, adopting a 53-point Political Declaration on the way towards universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support services.

World leaders gathered in New York in June 2011 for the General Assembly High Level Meeting on AIDS. The promises they made defined the next steps in the global AIDS response.

“I believe in a world where there are: Zero new HIV infections; Zero discrimination;
Zero AIDS-related deaths. This is the new vision of UNAIDS. This is our passion, our commitment, our resolve. A few years ago we could only dream of such a day—but today we
know we can make it happen.”

UNAIDS Executive Director
Michel Sidibé,
2011 Letter to partners