More than 75 million people worldwide have been infected with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), and there are now approximately 37 million individuals living with the infection. Untreated HIV replication causes progressive CD4(+) T cell loss and a wide range of immunological abnormalities, leading to an increased risk of infectious and oncological complications. HIV infection also contributes to cardiovascular disease, bone disease, renal and hepatic dysfunction and several other common morbidities. Antiretroviral drugs are highly effective at inhibiting HIV replication, and for individuals who can access and adhere to these drugs, combination antiretroviral therapy leads to durable (and probably lifelong) suppression of viral replication. Viral suppression enables immune recovery and the near elimination of the risk for developing acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). Despite effective treatment, HIV-infected individuals have a higher than expected risk of heart, bone, liver, kidney and neurological disease. When used optimally by an infected (or by an uninfected) person, antiretroviral drugs can virtually eliminate the risk of HIV transmission. Despite major advances in prevention sciences, HIV transmission remains common in many vulnerable populations, including men who have sex with men, injection drug users and sex workers. Owing to a lack of widespread HIV testing and the costs and toxicities associated with antiretroviral drugs, the majority of the infected population is not on effective antiretroviral therapy. To reverse the pandemic, improved prevention, treatment and implementation approaches are necessary.