CDC on the Frontlines: Transforming the HIV Epidemic in the Midst of the COVID-19 Pandemic

By: Hank Tomlinson, PhD, Director, Division of Global HIV & TB, CDC
Without a doubt, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a severe and dramatic impact on global efforts to combat HIV. Yet against the backdrop of this global pandemic, the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) has continued to make tremendous gains — reaching millions of people around the world with critically needed HIV prevention and treatment services.

As a key implementing agency of PEPFAR, CDC is at the forefront of these efforts, bringing a combination of scientific expertise and on-the-ground technical experience to bear in the fight against HIV. According to a new analysis released today, CDC and its partners were responsible for the majority of PEPFAR’s HIV testing, treatment, and VMMC results in 2021, interventions known to have the greatest impact on HIV incidence and mortality.

More specifically, the data show that:

  • As of September 30, 2021, CDC supported antiretroviral treatment for 11.8 million people living with HIV—more than 40 percent (42%) of all people on treatment worldwide. People like Thembi.
  • As of September 30, 2021, CDC has supported voluntary medical male circumcisions (VMMC) for 14.3 million men in Southern and Eastern Africa—over half (52%) of the 27.7 million circumcisions supported by PEPFAR to prevent boys and men, like Jason, from getting HIV.
  • In 2021, CDC and its partners newly diagnosed 1.5 million people with HIV, like 11- year-old Gugu, more than 60 percent (61%) of all people who received a new HIV diagnosis through PEPFAR.
  • In 2021, CDC supported treatment for 481,000 HIV-positive, pregnant women—just like Nontokozo—to reduce the risk of mother to child transmission, over 60 percent (64%) of all pregnant women who received HIV treatment through PEPFAR’s global efforts.
  • In 2021, CDC supported TB screenings for 9.5 million people living with HIV—more than 60 percent (61%) of all people with HIV screened for TB through PEPFAR—thanks to programs like this one, led by CDC and partners in Durban, South Africa.

We are truly making transformational progress against HIV across the globe, and we are saving lives.

COVID-19 and HIV: A Lesson in Resilience

These achievements speak not only to the far-reaching impact of CDC’s global HIV efforts, but also to the innovativeness and resiliency of our experts.

When COVID-19 lockdowns and closures threatened to impede patient access to treatment and prevention,  CDC experts adapted, innovated, and continued to drive progress in the fight against HIV.

We quickly expanded programs that provide clients with multiple months of HIV treatment, instead of the customary 30-day supply. We developed new and creative ways to deliver life-saving medicines directly to clients’ doorsteps. And we used virtual platforms and telehealth systems to reach clients with peer support, trainings, and critical health information.

CDC’s longstanding efforts, as part of PEPFAR, to strengthen public health systems in countries across the globe have also proved invaluable to the COVID-19 pandemic response. Our work on the frontlines, strengthening laboratory systems, training and supporting frontline healthcare workers, and enhancing surveillance systems, is helping countries to better respond to COVID-19 while also preparing them for future health threats.

The Path Ahead

While we have made great strides against HIV, we urgently need to do more.

  1. We must continue to accelerate progress to drive down new annual HIV infections and deaths

Since 2003, CDC and other PEPFAR implementing partners have saved more than 21 million lives. But our work is not done. Today, nearly 38 million people are living with HIV and 1.5 million are newly infected each year. With the COVID-19 pandemic threatening to unravel decades of progress, we must remain unrelenting in our efforts to advance progress or risk reversing these hard-fought gains.

  1. We must commit firmly to ensuring HIV services reach those who need them most

Reaching communities that are disproportionately affected by HIV is at the core of our work at CDC, but significant gaps in access remain – with deepening inequities made more evident by the COVID-19 pandemic. We know that people who are disenfranchised, marginalized, and stigmatized are often the most vulnerable to HIV. It is therefore critical that we continue to build on our existing work, strengthening efforts to address these disparities and removing the barriers that prevent too many from accessing life-saving treatment and prevention services.

  1. Finally, we must sustain HIV efforts in countries that are at or nearing epidemic control

Since 2003, CDC and other PEPFAR implementing partners have helped more than 20 hard-hit countries bring their HIV epidemics under control. We cannot stop now. We know that what it took to get us here, may not be what it takes to keep us here.

We must continue to expand patient-centered, data-driven approaches; use the innovations and tools we know work; and bolster health systems globally to sustain control of HIV epidemics. It will take all of us —governments and civil society, communities and clients, public health and private enterprise—working together to continue our momentum, saving millions of lives, now and into the future.

To learn more about CDC’s efforts on the frontlines of the global HIV response, visit
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CDC: On the Frontlines

According to a new analysis, CDC’s global efforts to treat and prevent HIV contributed to more than half of key* PEPFAR outcomes in 2021 – even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

*Those interventions known to have the greatest impact on reducing new annual HIV infections and deaths.