World AIDS Day 2016 and What You Need to Know

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Today is World AIDS Day. It is an opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV, show their support for people living with HIV, and to commemorate people who have died. World AIDS Day was the first ever global health day, held for the first time in 1988. This year’s theme, Leadership. Commitment. Impact., calls upon all leaders to strengthen their commitment to using evidence-based HIV interventions, prevention tools, and testing efforts to help stop HIV.

world aids dayThe red ribbon is the universal symbol of awareness and support for those living with HIV. The red ribbon has inspired other charities to utilize the symbol, for example, breast cancer awareness has adopted a pink version. In 1991, a group of artists gathered to discuss a new project for Visual Aids; a New York arts organization meant to raise awareness of HIV. They soon had an idea that later became one of the most recognized symbols of the decade – the red ribbon, worn to signify awareness and support for people living with HIV.

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An estimated 36.7 million people are living with HIV/AIDS around the world. Each year, more than 1 million people die from AIDS-related causes and 2.1 million people become newly infected with HIV. Two-thirds of new HIV infections worldwide occur in sub-Saharan Africa.

Countries are working to achieve the UNAIDS ’90-90-90′ targets, which call for 90 percent of people living with HIV to know their status, 90 percent of those diagnosed to start and stay on antiretroviral therapy (ART), and 90 percent of those on ART to have a suppressed viral load to protect their own health and prevent transmission of HIV.

Global efforts have resulted in 18.2 million people receiving ART for HIV infection as of June 2016, compared to 7.5 million at the end of 2010. In conjunction with World AIDS Day, CDC is releasing two studies in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report that provide important insights to help guide the global response to HIV – particularly in high-burden areas. One study assesses the past and current state of early infant diagnosis in some of the world’s most affected countries.

In 2015, 39,513 people were diagnosed with HIV infection in the United States. More than 1.2 million people are living with HIV, and about 1 in 8 don’t know it. The number of new HIV diagnoses fell 19% from 2005 to 2014, with large declines among heterosexuals and persons who inject drugs. Gay and bisexual men continue to be the most affected population, accounting for two-thirds of new diagnoses.

world aids dayThough HIV diagnoses have fallen among intravenous drug users, that progress could be threatened by the prescription opioid and heroin epidemics. If people share syringes, they are at high risk for getting HIV. According to CDC’s latest Vital Signs, only a quarter of those who inject drugs got all their syringes in the past year from sterile sources like syringe services programs or pharmacies. Syringe service programs can help prevent HIV infections among users by providing better access to sterile syringes, help in quitting drugs, and other services.

Today, scientific advances have been made in HIV treatment, there are laws to protect people living with HIV, and we understand so much more about the condition. Despite this, people do not know the facts about how to protect themselves and others, while stigma and discrimination remain a reality for many people living with the condition. For this reason, World AIDS Day is vital because it reminds the public and Government that HIV has not gone away. The need to raise money, increase awareness, fight prejudice and improve education is one of the utmost importance.

Despite the fact we have seen scientific and technological advancements since the first HIV case was reported here in 1981, stigma and discrimination have kept individuals living with HIV from receiving appropriate care and treatment in health care services. Among the often-undiscussed key drivers of the HIV epidemic are HIV-criminalization laws enforced throughout the United States.world aids day

Although World AIDS Day is a great opportunity to talk about HIV, it is important to keep the momentum going all year round. Sign up to NAT’s newsletter which will keep you up to date with all the new developments in HIV and the work of the National AIDS Trust. Also, knowing your status is one of the easiest ways to combat this disease and to help raise awareness while fighting stigma. Click here to find testing locations in your area. Take a friend, a spouse, or even take your children and use the opportunity to teach them about healthcare and proper protection from infections.

Jeff B. White
Jeff White is a News Editor and contributor for The Pacific Tribune. Jeff is a gay man who was born and raised in Mississippi; he has lived all over the country, but will always consider the South to be his home. Mr. White's passion for the truth and empathy for those less fortunate are driving forces in all that he does.