World AIDS Day 2011: Getting To Zero

Today is World AIDS Day, when people all over the world acknowledge and raise awareness of the disease that has claimed over 30 million lives in 30 years. This day is an opportunity for us to unite in the fight against HIV/AIDS, to remember those who have died, and to celebrate accomplishments.

2011 has been an incredible year for research into HIV prevention and treatment, with massive developments being made consistently. However, despite these advances, many people are in the dark about how to protect themselves and others from HIV. There is also still so much stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV. World AIDS Day is an important reminder to individuals and governments that HIV is still very much a part of our lives, and we still need to donate money, raise awareness, combat prejudice and improve sex education and AIDS/HIV education. Of the 15 million people medically recommended for anti-retroviral medication worldwide, only half have access to the drug treatment.

The theme for World AIDS Day 2011 is “Getting to Zero.” President Obama today spoke about a renewed and improved commitment to the HIV/AIDS fight, declaring “make no mistake, we are going to win this fight.”

“Today is a remarkable day. Today, we come together, as a global community, across continents, faiths and cultures, to renew our commitment to ending the AIDS pandemic – once and for all. The infection rate here has been holding steady for over a decade. There are communities in this country being devastated still by this disease. When new infections among young, black, gay men increase by nearly fifty percent in three years, we need to do more to show them that their lives matter. When Latinos are dying sooner than other groups; when black women feel forgotten even though they account for most of the new cases among women, we need to do more,” he said.

“This fight isn’t over. Not for the 1.2 million Americans who are living with HIV right now. Not for the Americans who are infected every day. This fight isn’t over for them. It isn’t over for their families. It isn’t over for anyone in this room. And it certainly isn’t over for your President,” said Obama in his speech.

Federal health officials have estimated that 20% of people with the virus DO NOT KNOW they have it because they have not been tested. The CDC says that new infections are driven overwhelmingly by people who don’t know they are HIV positive. There are an estimated 2.5 million children living with AIDS. 90% of whom contracted the disease during pregnancy, birth, or breastfeeding.

New HIV infections worldwide are at their lowest levels since 1997, but we still have a tremendous amount of work to do. World AIDS Day is a great opportunity to start a dialogue about HIV/AIDS but we need to be raising awareness of HIV/AIDS every day, all year round.