“Let Communities Lead” is the slogan of this year’s World AIDS Day.
Since 1988, the first day of December is an opportunity to remember all those who fight against disease and support the efforts of researchers, doctors and many others. Historically, the struggle represented a journey from fear and uncertainty to serious scientific progress through therapies and increase awareness.
One of the biggest challenges for the world was overcoming the stigma and misinformation that surrounded AIDS in the early years, hindering prevention efforts and leading to discrimination against those infected.
Identified for the first time in the United States, AIDS was initially characterised by a series of rare infections and cancers that affect the immune system. The virus responsible for AIDS, the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), was later identified in 1983 by researchers Françoise Barré-Sinoussi and Luc Montagnier.
UN data for 2022 indicate that nearly 40 million people worldwide are living with HIV, 1.3 million people became newly infected with HIV, and 630,000 people died of AIDS-related diseases in 2022.
According to the data of the Institute of Public Health of Serbia “Dr Milan Jovanović Batut”, 4,524 people infected with HIV were registered in the Republic of Serbia, of which 2,152 people fell ill with AIDS, while 1,192 people infected with HIV died of AIDS, and another 144 people infected with HIV died of diseases or conditions unrelated to HIV infection.
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Since 1997, highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) has been available and free of charge in the Republic of Serbia, i.e. all treatment costs are borne by the Republic Health Insurance Fund for all insured persons.
The European Union invests significantly in the development of new drugs, vaccines and innovative strategies in the fight against this disease. In the last few years alone, the EU has provided more than 220 million euros to project that provide tools to predict, develop and select the most promising vaccine candidates for early stage testing, thus contributing to global HIV vaccine initiative.
Through research activities, the EU strengthens the involvement of all relevant actors in the process (e.g. patient communities, social scientists, etc.), as well as the influence on policy-making by making available high-quality data for evidence-based recommendations.
Ongoing research focuses on developing new drugs, vaccines and innovative prevention strategies to further control the spread of HIV and improve the quality of life of those living with the virus. To date, tremendous progress has been achieved in research and medicine for the treatment of AIDS, leading to significant reduction in mortality and morbidity. AIDS is curable today and treatments provide life expectancy similar to that of the uninfected population.
In recent years, the global community (as part of the UN Sustainable Development Goals) has set ambitious goals to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030. This includes not only expanding access to treatment, but also addressing social determinants, reducing stigma and ensuring universal health care for all.
Although significant progress has been made, the fight against HIV/AIDS continues, highlighting the importance of global collaboration, research and continued commitment to ending the epidemic.