- In the US, more than 700,000 people have died from HIV-related illness since 1981.
- Antiretroviral therapies have significantly reduced HIV-related infections and deaths.
- Both COVID-19 and HIV/AIDS have disproportionately impacted minority communities.
COVID-19 has killed approximately 750,000 Americans over the last two years, officially surpassing the number of lives lost to HIV/AIDS over the last four decades to become the country’s deadliest pandemic.
Recent data from the nonprofit Kaiser Family Foundation found more than 700,000 people have died from HIV-related illness since its emergence in the US in 1981. Highly effective antiretroviral therapies were developed during the 1990s, turning HIV/AIDS from the leading cause of death in young adults into a “chronic manageable condition,” according to peer-reviewed scientific journal “AIDS.”
Today, antiretroviral therapies like Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) are widely accepted due to their substantial reduction of HIV-related infections and deaths.
“The rapid and progressive development of antiretroviral therapy has not only proven to be life-saving for many millions but has been instrumental in unveiling the inequities in access to health between rich and poor countries of the world,” researchers wrote for the AIDS scientific journal.
Despite their differing rates of transmission and mortality, the negative outcomes of both COVID-19 and HIV/AIDS have been disproportionately borne by minority communities.
Black and Latinx individuals still account for large percentages of new HIV infections while representing small portions of the total population. Gay men, bisexual men, and transgender individuals of all races and ethnicities remain severely and disproportionately affected by the epidemic, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Similarly, CDC data shows that Black, Latinx, Asian, and Native Americans are at higher risk for COVID-19 infection, hospitalization, and death.
Projections for COVID-19-related deaths, however, are far more grim than those for HIV/AIDS.
The number of annual HIV infections has steadily declined over the last several years, with a reduction by more than two-thirds since the height of the epidemic in the mid-1980s, according to HIV.gov. A 2019 CDC report found that approximately one million Americans over the age of 13 have HIV, and more than half are virally suppressed or undetectable.
This means that, with daily medication, individuals living with HIV can stay healthy and have effectively no risk of sexually transmitting the virus to partners, ultimately reducing the number of deaths.
In 2019, there were a total of 15,815 deaths among adults and adolescents with diagnosed HIV in the United States, according to HIV.gov.
By contrast, tens of thousands of new COVID-19 infections are still being recorded every day in the US. Daily average deaths remain over 1,000 as of October 29, according to New York Times data.