Thursday, December 01, 2011

World Aids Day once again - keep on keeping on

The 1st of December means it's World AIDS Day once again. This day to me is a time to celebrate life, to continue the struggle against HIV, to support those living with HIV and AIDS, and to commemorate those around the world who have been died because of AIDS. Wearing a red ribbon, I sometimes greet people with "Happy World AIDS Day" and they look at me strangely, thinking it's an odd thing to appear happy about. And while I wish that we didn't need such a day, I'm glad that globally we continue to acknowledge it, to stand together and not allow silence and discrimination about this disease to overpower us.

No to discrimination, HIV poster, Mozambique, May 2009

Today is about celebrating life and about connecting with the millions of people around the world who are living with HIV, and the millions more who are affected by it, all those who continue to work today and every day to end of the pandemic. Probably I've said all these things before, but sadly, 30 years since the Human Immunodeficiency Virus was first identified, it is still with us, and millions of people die every year because of AIDS-related illnesses. We have no cure, but we can prevent HIV, and we do have treatment. Anti-retroviral drug treatment is finally being made available to about half of those who need it worldwide. A massive increase in just a few years, which many said could not be done and wasn't even worth trying. Yet that change is now saving hundreds of thousands of lives, and has saved over 2 million lives since 1995. Now we have to reach the other half.

Fashion made of condoms, at the International AIDS Conference, Bangkok, Thailand, July 2004

UNAIDS, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, released a report last week showing that there were 34 million people living with HIV globally at the end of 2010, more people than ever before. In 2010, a total of 1.8 million people died due to AIDS-related illnesses, and another 2.7 million people became newly infected with HIV during the year. These are huge figures, and they should remind us that this fight is far from won.

World AIDS Quilt commemorating some of those who have lost their lives because of AIDS

But there is good news. The number of people living with HIV is greater because people are living longer with the disease, mainly because of the availability of treatment. The annual numbers of deaths and of new infections have decreased substantially compared to when they were at their highest, in 2005 and 1997 respectively. Some media articles have reported only that there have been drops, without mentioning the shockingly huge figures that still remain. Or simply don't report on it at all, because who wants to hear about things getting better, about concerted global efforts actually having a massive positive effect? Who is interested in how years of activism, research, medicine, community involvement, education, political efforts and hard cash have actually saved lives? Perhaps the global climate change talks struggling to make progress right now in South Africa could learn a thing or two.

EZLN, tranvestites and transexuals walking together towards the Zocalo as part of the All Women, All Rights HIV march, Mexico City, August 2008.

For the future, sufficient political commitment, funding, awareness, prevention and treatment could build on this progress and eventually make HIV a thing of the past, but not if we become complacent. Now is the time to eradicate HIV, not to abandon the struggle when we're finally gaining ground. The improvements are things we should celebrate today and learn from, but we cannot forget how enormous the numbers still are, how many millions of people, families and communities are still affected by HIV and AIDS, and how much work is still left to do.

AIDS - it's not over. Mexico City, August 2008

Events in Ireland for World AIDS Day 2011 and next week – including the annual concert at Christchurch tonight at 8p.m., lighting of the Mansion House in red and an exhibition at the Gallery of Photography.

My previous post on World AIDS Day 2009.

An excellent post by Unkie Dave on on the Irish and global HIV situations and the lack of media coverage.


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