The pandemic is rapidly spreading. Every minute, 10 people are infected with HIV. Today, more that 36 million people live with HIV/AIDS. There is no preventive vaccine and treatment is unaffordable or inaccessible for most people who need it.
For now, prevention is the best and most feasible approach to reverse and ultimately halt this epidemic, which threatens the very fabric of our being – decimating families, destabilizing communities, and endangering the well being of elderly caretakers and future generations.
In economic terms, infrastructures are often stressed beyond capacities and past development gains quickly erode. The magnitude of human suffering and increased burden of care, treatment and support associated with the epidemic makes HIV/ AIDS a major challenge facing the global community today.
The urgency to take concrete action is evident. Prevention of HIV must be the mainstay of any response irrespective of the magnitude of the epidemic in a country or community. However it must also be acknowledged that prevention, care and treatment are inextricably linked along a broad continuum — their effectiveness is immeasurably increased when they are used together.
Effectiveness is also greatly amplified when there exists an enabling environment based on a foundation of full respect for human rights including equity and gender equality.
The mode of HIV transmission is most often heterosexual (about 75%) and among people of reproductive age. This makes reproductive health a logical context in which to address HIV prevention. Sexual and reproductive health programmes, by providing needed information and services, serve as entry points for addressing the social and behavioural changes that can slow the spread of the HIV infection.
Prevention of HIV is a component of prevention and care of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and an integral part of sexual and reproductive health and rights.
Overall country strategies – in which prevention, care and treatment are addressed in a complementary manner — will vary, based on the stage and pattern of the epidemic, the socio-cultural context in which the epidemic operates, and the specific needs of the local situation; however, prevention is always relevant. It is never too early nor too late to begin prevention efforts irrespective of the scale of the epidemic or stage of a person’s life cycle.