Dec. 1 is World AIDS Day, an opportunity for people to come together globally, demonstrating international solidarity in the face of the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
“Getting to Zero” has been chosen as the theme for the years between 2011 and 2015, signifying a push towards greater access to treatment for all: zero new HIV infections, zero HIV/AIDS discrimination and zero AIDS related deaths.
In 1981, doctors began to see gay men come into hospitals stricken with a mysterious disease. By 2008, that disease we now know as AIDS had claimed the lives of 2 million people around the world, gay and straight. Over 33.4 million are living with the disease; and in 2008 alone, 2.7 million people became infected.
After decades of awareness, education and research, the tide is finally turning. According to a recent UNAIDS report, the number of people receiving antiretroviral therapy (ART) is increasing, with over 6.65 million patients in middle-income and low-income countries receiving treatment by the end of 2010.
In the same year, nearly half of pregnant women living with HIV received prophylaxis, preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV.
Being on treatment has an impact on prevention as well. In sub-Saharan Africa, clinical trials have shown that among HIV-positive people who receive ART the risk of transmitting the virus to a partner is cut by 96 percent.
Increased access to HIV-care services resulted in a reduction of new infections from 3.1 million in 2001 to 2.7 million in 2010, and a 22 percent decline in AIDS-related deaths in the past five years.
Researchers have unveiled new prevention methods that show promise in the fight to get zero. Encouraging developments out of the Obama administration finally have put the U.S. on a course to address the battle at home.
In July 2010, the Obama administration unveiled its National AIDS Strategy, which was required of poor countries seeking funding, but until then, the U.S. never had one its own. The U.S. government also lifted a 20-year ban that kept HIV positives from entering the country, which enabled the 2012 International National AIDS Conference to be held in Washington DC this year.
Standing in the way of reaching zero are the more than 65 percent of new infections that come from people who infect others and do not know their own status.
Stigma is still a driving force, allowing people to live in denial about personal risks. Many people remain afraid to get tested, and if they do test positive, they are afraid to seek care due to fears of disclosure.
For the young it is the feeling of invincibility, thinking HIV cannot happen to them. Pressures on women in some countries make it difficult for them to protect themselves, and condom-free sex feels good.
Economic challenges will also affect prevention programs, so difficult decisions will be made on where to best target limited resources at the risk of causing unintended HIV incidence increases in communities left behind.
Finally, many have begun to recognize housing, education, mental health/addiction treatment, and jobs as effective tools in the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS. However, throughout the world, we have yet to hear global leaders demonstrate sustainable commitments to provide these basic human needs to all.
To win this battle with HIV, the world must get to zero. The theme will run until 2015, and it is envisioned that different regions and groups around the world will choose one or all the identified zero goals.
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