To most casual observers of AIDS, which is to say, most people who haven't known anyone afflicted with HIV, the situation seems to be improving rapidly. While this view is not without foundation when looked at from one (narrow) perspective, the reality is far more complicated and determined by class than most media accounts suggest.
The fact is that the spread of HIV and AIDS continues to be a major challenge across the globe, the epidemic is growing and there is concerning evidence that some countries are seeing a resurgence in new infection rates that were previously stable or declining.
According to the UNAIDS/WHO 2006 AIDS Epidemic Update, an estimated 39.5 million people are currently living with HIV. There were 4.3 million new infections in 2006 with 2.8 million (65 percent) of these occurring in sub-Saharan Africa and significant increases seen in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, where there are indications that infection rates have risen by more than 50 percent since 2004. The latest National AIDS Control Organization report showed 72,000 new HIV infections in 2005, compared to 28,000 in 2004 - a 157 percent jump. Most of the new infections are in the 22 to 45 age group. In 2006, 2.9 million people died of AIDS-related illnesses.
This Saturday's World AIDS Day -- the nineteenth -- is trying to keep these facts present in the minds of those whose energy and money have been crucial in combating the disease in the past. Started on December 1, 1988, World AIDS Day is not just about raising money, but also about increasing awareness, fighting prejudice, improving education and reminding people that HIV has not gone away, and that there are many things still to be done.
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The day is also an important opportunity for activists to galvanize public and legislative sentiment behind campaigns like Planned Parenthood's call for Congress to halt funding for harmful abstinence-only programs that deny teenagers life-saving information about preventing infections like HIV/AIDS and the National AIDS Housing Coalition's push for policy-makers worldwide to acknowledge the link between stable housing and positive health outcomes when addressing HIV/AIDS prevention, care and treatment.
Here are some ways you can support World AIDS Day, courtesy of the Avert website:
- Help save a child's life in an AIDS-affected community by becoming a HopeChild sponsor through WorldVision. (All it takes is one dollar a day.)
- Raise awareness of HIV and AIDS in your area by wearing a red ribbon and ask others to do the same.
- Sign up as a supporter of the Stop AIDS in Children campaign.
- Protect yourself and your partners--this is the first and best way to stop the spread of HIV.
- Put up some posters--get people talking.
- Organize a creative writing/poster campaign.
- Set up a debate or a quiz - there are lots of ideas for topics on the Avert site.
- Get your friends, family, colleagues or pupils to express their feelings about AIDS.
- Learn more about HIV and AIDS: avert.org has a great deal of information about AIDS and the global epidemic.
There are also related concerts, panels, parties and all sorts of other events taking place across the globe on Saturday. Check out this site for details.