HIV 101: The Difference Between Control, Elimination, and Eradication

EGPAF offers HIV care, prevention and treatment services to families around the world to achieve an AIDS-free generation.

James Pursey/EGPAF

HIV/AIDS has killed more than 36 million people since the epidemic began in the 1980s, and it remains one of the greatest global health threats of our time. 

Now, with UNAIDS’ new accelerated strategy to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030, it’s more important than ever to prioritize that goal and comprehend what achieving it really means. 

The first step is to understand a few terms that might seems like synonyms to the average person, but each has a very different meaning to public health experts, especially when it comes to ending serious public health threats like HIV/AIDS.

Now that we understand the terminology, how do we use it when it comes to meeting the ambitious goals set out to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030? The reality is that we must take several steps to end HIV/AIDS.

As UNAIDS highlighted in its 2014 report, we must scale up current efforts to control the virus by ensuring that more people know their HIV status, are on treatment , and have achieved suppression of the virus in their bodies so they can live healthy lives and can reduce the risk of passing the virus onto others.

In tandem with these efforts, scientists and researchers must continue to work to develop innovations that could eradicate the epidemic, either through a cure or through the development of a vaccine. However, it is important to note that developing a vaccine and developing a cure are two unique and very complex endeavors that are yet to be successfully developed and put into practice.

An HIV vaccine would be used to prevent HIV-negative people from becoming infected with the virus.  And an effective vaccine to immunize against HIV would need to be usable in a variety of settings and for people of all ages, similar to vaccines against polio or measles.

But even if we could stop new infections with a vaccine or other highly effective prevention interventions, 35 million people who are currently living with HIV will continue to need to take their daily antiretroviral therapy (ART) and receive other related services for the rest of their lives. Therefore, scientists are also working to develop a cure for HIV, which would be used to destroy and/or remove the virus from the bodies of people who are already infected. Being able to cure people of their HIV infection would, over time, reduce the number of people living with HIV and thereby reduce the individual and societal burden of HIV care and treatment.

If we ultimately want to reach the end of AIDS, now is the time to scale up our efforts so that we achieve the 2030 UNAIDS goal. At EGPAF, we are committed to supporting the necessary programs, research, and advocacy to end this epidemic, and we will continue our work until no child has AIDS.