World AIDS Day on 1 December is the day when individuals and organisations from around the world come together to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS and demonstrate international solidarity in the face of the pandemic. 2008 marks the 20th anniversary of World AIDS Day. The Day is one of the most visible opportunities for public and private partners to spread awareness about the status of the pandemic and encourage progress in HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and care in high prevalence countries and around the world.
There are now 33.2 million people living with HIV, according to 2007 figures released by WHO. An estimated 2.5 million were newly infected with the virus and 2.1 million died of AIDS the same year.
As of 2008, a small number of countries are already providing universal access to antiretroviral treatment and to services to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV. Others are well on the way to doing so. In more and more countries, HIV infection levels are falling. Twenty-seven years into the epidemic, AIDS continues to challenge all of our efforts. Today, for every two people who start taking antiretroviral drugs, another five become newly infected. Unless we take urgent steps to intensify HIV prevention we will fail to sustain the gains of the past few years, and universal access will simply be a noble aspiration.
This year’s theme for World AIDS Day is ’Lead – Empower – Deliver’, building on last year’s theme of ’Take the Lead’. Designating leadership as the World AIDS Day theme for 2007 – 2008 provides an opportunity to highlight both the political leadership needed to fulfill commitments that have been made in the response to AIDS – particularly the promise of universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support by 2010 – and celebrating the leadership that has been witnessed at all levels of society.
Leadership was selected as the theme for World AIDS Day to encourage leaders at all levels to stop AIDS. Building on the 2006 theme of accountability, leadership highlights the discrepancy between the commitments that have been made to halt the spread of AIDS, and actions taken to follow them through. The theme empowers everyone from individuals to organisations to governments to lead in the response to AIDS. This anniversary offers us an opportunity to highlight how much more still needs to be done. For example:
- Leaders in most countries from around the world now acknowledge the threat of AIDS, and many have committed to do something about it. As of 2007, nearly all countries have national policies on HIV. However, despite these policies, most have not been fully implemented and many lack funding allocations.
- While treatment for HIV and AIDS has improved and become more widespread since 1988, many still do not have access to it – in 2007 only 31% of those in low- to middle-income countries who need treatment received it.
- Despite HIV awareness now reaching nearly all areas of the globe, infection rates are still happening 2.7 times faster than the increase in number of people receiving treatment.
- While the number of countries protecting people living with HIV continue to increase, one third of countries still lack legal protections and stigma and discrimination continues to be a major threat to universal access.
- More broadly, real action on HIV and AIDS and human rights remains lacking. Legal barriers to HIV services still exist for groups such as women, adolescents, sex workers, people who use drugs, and men having sex with men, and programmatic responses promoting HIV-related human rights have yet to be prioritised.
- To achieve this goal, leadership and action is needed now. Governments must deliver on the promises they have made. Communities must encourage leadership of its members. Individuals must feel empowered to access treatment, to know their rights and take action against stigma and discrimination, and to know and use methods of prevention against receiving and transmitting HIV.
Progress remains uneven, however, and the epidemic’s future is still uncertain, underscoring the need for intensified action to move towards universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care, and support.
Achieving the many political commitments made on HIV will require stronger leadership, building on recent successes, taking account of lessons learnt, increased financial resources, improved coordination of effort, and effective action to address societal determinants of HIV risk and vulnerability.
Monitoring and evaluation systems are being strengthened, largely with external funds, because countries are only beginning to avail themselves of the standard provision that up to 10% of programme funds can be directed to strengthening such systems. World AIDS Day in India
Approximately 2.5 million people were living with HIV in India in 2006. Whilst almost 25% of the country’s population is between the ages of 15-29 years, this age group accounts for 31% of people living with HIV, demonstrating that young people are at particularly high risk of contracting HIV. To face this risk and turn around the epidemic, young people must be encouraged and supported to take leadership roles within their communities.
This year, World AIDS Campaign, Wake Up Pune campaign and the Naz Foundation (India) Trust (Naz India), with the support of UNFPA and Aids Fonds, are organising two large-scale World AIDS Day events in two cities in India: Pune and New Delhi. The events will focus on young people as leaders and increase awareness around HIV and AIDS. The events will take note of the effects that HIV has on the population (particularly young people), stigma and discrimination, youth rights and needs regarding HIV and AIDS, as well as highlight the importance of young people being actively involved in the HIV and AIDS response. They will focus on accountability, calling upon leaders to keep their promises to stop AIDS - specifically fulfilling commitments on universal access to prevention, treatment, care and support for young people by 2010. SMS Pledge Campaign in India: Stand up. Make a difference.
Take the lead and Pledge your support for World AIDS Day, December 1st. If you are in India, you can TEXT us your pledge by doing the following:
SMS "PLEDGE" to the number: 56070