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HIV/AIDS – No Time For Complacency

World AIDS Day is an annual reminder of the continued need to take global action against HIV/AIDS. Taking place on December 1st every year, World AIDS day serves as an opportunity for all those fighting against HIV to unite, to show their support for those living with HIV/AIDS and to remember those who have died. With figures now estimating global HIV prevalence at over 34 million, there is little argument about it being one of the most pressing issues facing the world today. More than 25 million people died from AIDS related illnesses between 1981 and 2007 with approximately 2.7 new infections and 2 million deaths in 2008 alone.

Nowhere is the issue more pressing than in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) where 22.5 million people live with HIV/AIDS – 68% of the global total. The three countries with highest prevalence – Swaziland, Botswana and Zimbabwe – account for a third of all those infected. In some regions of SSA, a combination of geographical, political, economic and health factors have meant that over the past two decades HIV/AIDS prevalence has increased from less than 1% of the population to over 40%. As Purene Bareetsi (AIDS Coordinator from Ministry of Education & Skills Development, Botswana) said, ‘everyone is either infected or affected’.

At the national level, the disease is threatening to overwhelm the stability of countries’ economies, infrastructures, and demographics. Because of, and despite lack of economic wealth and cultural factors, SSA has perhaps the most challenges to overcome in order to readdress the causes and proliferators of the disease. While annual global spending on AIDS in LMICs is $8.9 billion, it is estimated that $14.9 billion is needed for a truly effective response.

But this is far from just an African issue. For example, despite initial action from the UK government with hard-hitting awareness campaigns, HIV/AIDS is more prevalent than ever in the UK. Although there have been improvements in laws and support for people living with HIV/AIDS, as well as scientific advances, poor understanding, stigma and discrimination still surrounds this prominent issue . Prevalence rates have more than trebled in the last 10 years and now over 90,000 people live with HIV/AIDS in the UK. Campaigners and activists are trying to revive the education campaigns to dispel the complacency that pervades across the country. Lack of understanding, education and personal responsibility for the disease means that as little as 30% of British people can correctly identify all the different modes of transmission of HIV. Furthermore, it is estimated that 26% of those people living with HIV/AIDS in the UK are unaware of their status, and may be unknowingly infecting others.

What should I do on World AIDS Day?

  • Wear a red ribbon, the international symbol of HIV awareness. Find out more about the red ribbon and purchase a limited edition sparkly red ribbon here.
  • Get tested! There are even rapid testing services now that are not only free, confidential and done using a finger-prick blood test but will also give results within one hour. You have no excuse, and you have an obligation to yourself, your loved ones and your sexual partners!
  • Attend an event near you. There are events going on all across the world today! For the UK: Click here to see events organised through the National AIDS Trust, and here for events from the Terrence Higgins Trust Cymru.
  • Take part in the worldwide discussions surrounding HIV/AIDS. Most notable is the innovative online discussions for young people started recently by UNAIDS: CrowdOutAIDS.
  • Support the NAT’s campaign to ensure that the next generation are given adequate HIV education in schools in the UK – take action here.

And generally – increase awareness, fight prejudice, improve education, raise money.

  • Correctly educate yourself about the disease (avert.org is a particularly good and easy-to-use website), and use this knowledge to take care of your own health and the health of others. Visit the National Aids Trust’s new interactive website HIVaware.
  • Ensure you treat everyone living with HIV fairly, with respect and understanding and help eliminate prejudice and stigma.
  • You may even be inspired to explore ideas for your own awareness raising event at some point throughout the year – after all, the fight must continue beyond World AIDS Day. See the various websites below about support and advice in running your own event or for volunteering with them.

Recommended Reading
> People’s World AIDS day videos, including from UK political party leaders, celebrities, gaydar, HIV positive individuals and others.
> Avert website.
> BBC article: ‘HIV/Aids: Why were the campaigns successful in the West?
> National AIDS Trust World AIDS Day website.
> Terrence Higgins Trust Cymru website.

Sources:
Above mentioned recommended reading, plus:
> Bareestsi, Purene: Ministry AIDS Coordinator, Ministry of Education & Skills Development, Botswana. Interview conducted Sept 2010 by Peter Thomas (Article author).
> UNAIDS. (2009, November 24). Press Release: ‘Eight-year trend shows new HIV infections down by 17% – most progress seen in sub-Saharan Africa.
> UNAIDS. (2010). Global Report Fact Sheet – Sub-Saharan Africa.
> Walker, B. D., & Kaufmann, S. H. (2009). AIDS and Tuberculosis: A Deadly Liaison. Weinheim, Germany: Wiley-Blackwell.

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