Hope, Concern – World AIDS Day 2009

December 1st 2009 is the 21st annual World AIDS Day, nearly 28 years following the first diagnosis of the disease in June 1981. Great strides have been made against the disease over the decades. Rates of infection have continued to decline, due in part to medical advances that have reduced the likelihood of transmission through pregnancy, the cumulative effect of global education and prevention programs, and a slow reduction in the stigma of AIDS that encourages earlier and more frequent testing.

Despite this, there is still much to be done. The World Health Organization reports that nearly half of the 9.5 million people who need anti-retroviral treatments (ART) don’t receive it – that’s roughly 5.5 million untreated people. And while rates of infection have slowed, there are still 7400 new infections every day, 1200 of which are children.

UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé calls for an end to the stigma, discrimination, and criminallization that prevents education, testing, and treatment in many parts of the world. In his 2009 World AIDS Day address:

On this World AIDS Day we are filled with both hope and concern.

Hope because significant progress has been made towards universal access. New HIV infections have dropped. Fewer children are born with HIV. And more than 4 million people are on treatment.

Concern because 28 years into the epidemic the virus continues to make inroads into new populations; stigma and discrimination continue to undermine efforts to turn back the epidemic. The violation of human rights of people living with HIV, women and girls, men who have sex with men, injecting drug users and sex workers must end.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called on “all countries to live up to their commitments to enact or enforce legislation outlawing discrimination against people living with HIV and members of vulnerable groups”. On this World AIDS Day, let us work urgently to remove punitive laws and practices and put an end to discrimination against and criminalization of people affected by HIV.

(It’s hard not to think of the proposed Ugandan legislation criminalizing repeated homosexuality with life imprisonment or death by hanging.)

On the home front, when establishing the Office of National AIDS Policy last June, President Obama noted the heavy impact AIDS continues to have even in the US:

“‘When one of our fellow citizen becomes effected every nine and a half minutes, the epidemic effects all Americans.”

It’s heartening that as a country we’ve made such progress as repealing the global gag rule, dropping the HIV travel ban, and Washington D.C.’s hosting the 2012 International AIDS conference for the first time in a decade. Yet, the Obama administration has come under fire from AIDS avocacy groups who criticize the lack of funds allocated to the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). Health GAP, Africa Action, Treatment Action Group and the Global AIDS Alliance released a report on PREFAR’s 2010 funding:

“Despite repeated public commitments to expand funding for successful global AIDS programs, the first budget request to Congress prepared by President Obama, for FY2010, would for the first time essentially flat-fund U.S. global AIDS investments—it will not even keep pace with global medical inflation, estimated at 4-10% this year.

U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator, Ambassador Eric P. Goosby, MD, stated that PREFAR is working to transition from emergency response to long-term sustainability.

“PEPFAR’s five-year strategy will focus on sustainability, and sustainable responses, programs that are country owned and country driven.”

Further Info:

HIV:Reality The UK’s world AIDS Days site. Focuses on stories, videos, photos of people living with HIV/AIDS.

World AIDS Campaign – Lots of up to the minute news.

AIDS Portal – Hub  of 1232 AIDS organizations.

UNAIDS – Founder of World AIDS Day.

Global Commission on Women and AIDS

AIDS 2009 Epidemic Update – Comprehensive Report from UNAIDS (pdf)

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