HIV:AIDS in EthiopiaSituated along the eastern coast of the Horn of Africa, sits the populous nation of Ethiopia. Like many nations in the sub-Saharan region, Ethiopia has been heavily impacted by the tide of Human Immunodeficiency Virus Infection and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, commonly known as HIV/AIDS. Modern advancements in education, health care and prevention seek to eradicate the disease’s devastating impact.

History of HIV/AIDS in Ethiopia

The first documented case of HIV was in June 1981 in Los Angeles, California. In 1984, doctors discovered HIV in Ethiopia as well. About two years later, the first case of AIDS appeared in Ethiopia as well, propelling the country into an epidemic.

In 1986, the prevalence of HIV/AIDS was under 1% of the population, but it grew steadily until it reached 4.4% by 2003. Meanwhile, rates in the nation’s capital, Addis Ababa, and other urban areas, towered above the country’s overall average for adults aged 15-49 years old. The estimated prevalence in these cities peaked in 1996, reaching 15.6% in Addis Ababa and 12.7% in urban areas. AIDS has been the leading cause of death in adult Ethiopians since 2006.

Impact of Poverty

Ethiopia is rich in agricultural resources. Yet, many Ethiopians struggle with poverty. Up to 78% of the population earns an income of less than $2.00 per day.

Poverty is concentrated in Ethiopia’s urban areas, where the prevalence of HIV/AIDS averages 3%, compared to the national rate of 1%. The impoverished population of Ethiopia’s cities often has neither the education nor the resources to combat diseases such as HIV/AIDS, contributing to its spread. HIV/AIDS only perpetuates poverty, as household, community, regional and sectoral costs are magnified by the sheer expense of care.

For the average Ethiopian, managing HIV/AIDS is a monumental expense, and poverty can make it nearly impossible to survive.

HIV/AIDS Numbers in Ethiopia Today

As of 2021, an estimated 610,000 Ethiopians were living with HIV/AIDs: 360,000 women, 210,000 men and 42,000 children. There were 12,000 deaths nationwide, contributing to the staggering figure of 280,000 children orphaned from HIV/AIDS-related deaths.

Despite this, progress has been made against the tide of HIV/AIDS in Ethiopia. Although thousands still suffer from the disease in 2023, foreign and domestic aid efforts are combatting the issue of inaccessible education and care. In addition, 84% of people with HIV/AIDS in Ethiopia know their status, and 78% are on antiretroviral therapy (ART).

ART is especially vital in mitigating HIV/AIDS in Ethiopia, as it suppresses the HIV virus, decreases its transmission and slows its progression to AIDS. Funding for free and comprehensive access to ART allows hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians to suppress their viral load and live healthily with HIV. Ethiopia is looking toward universal access to ART, which would allow HIV+ Ethiopians of all socio-economic backgrounds to receive care.

The Future

The U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) has invested nearly $3 billion to help Ethiopia combat the disease over the past 15 years, alongside the U.S.’ goal to end the HIV/AIDS pandemic by 2030, paints a positive future outlook for Ethiopia.

PEPFAR’s ultimate goal for Ethiopia is to establish that 95% of Ethiopians living with HIV know their status, have access to ART and can achieve viral load suppression within the next 10 years. Additionally, it will ensure economic stability and child care for people suffering from HIV/AIDs.

On May 23, 2023, Ambassador Dr. John Nkengasong, U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator and Special Representative for Health Diplomacy announced the approval of an additional $112 million for outreach for HIV/AIDS in Ethiopia.

In the 1980s-2000s, Ethiopia struggled to control the epidemic. HIV+ Ethiopians living in poverty, especially in urban areas, struggled to afford the cost of living with the disease. However, through international and domestic endeavors, HIV/AIDS in Ethiopia has become more manageable, spurring hope for eventual eradication.

– Char Nieberding
Photo: Flickr