The World Health Organization (WHO) has alerted countries to the growing threat of HIV drug resistance. They warn that if early action is not taken, the global process of treating and preventing HIV could be undermined.

Eleven countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America were surveyed for the WHO HIV Drug Resistance Report (2017). Of these countries, 6 were found to have more than 10% of people on antiretroviral therapy who were resistant to some of the most commonly used HIV medications. 

Once the threshold of 10% is reached, WHO recommends that those countries review their treatment programs for the disease. Of 36.7 million people living with HIV worldwide, the majority of the 19.5 million people accessing antiretroviral therapy are doing well. 

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However, a growing number are becoming drug-resistant, which develops when patients do not follow a prescribed treatment plan, often because they lack consistent access to care. Unless their treatment plan is altered, the level of HIV in their blood will increase and can lead to the drug-resistant virus being transmitted to others. However, in many countries, new treatment regimens are even harder to obtain.

 “We need to proactively address the rising levels of resistance to HIV drugs if we are to achieve the global target of ending AIDS by 2030,” stated Tedros Ghebreyesus, PhD, MSc, the WHO director general.

In order to tackle HIV drug resistance, active involvement of many counties and partners will be necessary. The new 5-year Global Action Plan calls for joint efforts to prevent, monitor, and respond to HIV drug resistance. To help these countries monitor HIV drug resistance and improve treatment plans, WHO has developed some new tools.

“Special attention to populations at risk for higher resistance, such as pediatric patients, pregnant women, and key populations, will be critical to target more urgent interventions. We call on the global community for continued vigilance and responsiveness,” said Shannon Hader, MD, MPH, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s Division of Global HIV and Tuberculosis.


WHO urges action against HIV drug resistance threat [press release]. Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization; July 20, 2017. Accessed August 11, 2017.

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