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90–90–90: Good progress, but the world is off-track for hitting the 2020 targets

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In 2016, the United Nations General Assembly’s Political Declaration on Ending AIDS committed countries to the 90–90–90 targets, which aim to bring HIV testing and treatment to the vast majority of people living with HIV by the end of 2020 and to reduce the amount of HIV in their bodies to undetectable levels, so they keep healthy and to prevent the further spread of the virus.

Globally, there have been remarkable gains across the HIV testing and treatment cascade. At the end of 2019, 81% of people living with HIV knew their HIV status, and more than two thirds (67%) were on antiretroviral therapy, equal to an estimated 25.4 million of the 38.0 million people living with HIV—a number that has more than tripled since 2010.

Gains in treatment effectiveness, as well as increases in the number of people who know their status and are on treatment, are reflected in the fact that viral load suppression levels among all people living with HIV increased by 18 percentage points between 2015 and 2019. Almost 59% of people living with HIV globally had suppressed viral loads in 2019. However, achieving the 90–90–90 targets results in a minimum of 73% of people living with HIV having suppressed viral loads, so the global target for the end of 2020 is unlikely to be met.

The COVID-19 pandemic also could have an impact on viral load. Early modelling showed that a severe disruption in HIV treatment could result in additional AIDS-related deaths in sub-Saharan Africa. Some countries have reported reductions in medicine collections of up to 20% in some areas and there have been multiple reports of people living with HIV not having enough antiretroviral medicine for a lockdown of more than 60 days, as well as reports of people having abandoned their HIV treatment due to a lack of food. However, monthly data from January to June 2020 reported by countries to UNAIDS have not shown substantial declines in the numbers of people currently on treatment over the six-month period.