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Everyone Counts – World AIDS Day

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Friday is World AIDS Day. First designated by the United Nations in 1988, World AIDS Day was the first ever global health day, and is celebrated on December 1 annually.

The day is dedicated to raising awareness of the AIDS pandemic, caused by the spread of HIV infection, and mourning those who have died of the disease. Globally, an estimated 36.7 million people are living with HIV. Since the early 1980s, more than 70 million people have been infected and 35 million people have died as a result. AIDS is therefore one of the most destructive pandemics in history. Locally, as at May this year, data collected since 1984 put total infections at 1,502 and total deaths at 734.

Scientific advances have led to better treatments and faster diagnoses, but there is still a lot to learn about the virus. Researchers around the world are working to find out more about how HIV is transmitted. They are developing more sensitive, faster tests to diagnose infection, with the ultimate goal of stopping transmission.

Just last Friday, The Washington Post reported that we have arrived at an historic moment in the history of HIV: Medical authorities are publicly agreeing that people with undetectable viral loads cannot transmit the virus that causes AIDS.

This policy change has profound implications for the way people view HIV. It is an exciting turning point and gives us hope that the end of HIV transmission is in sight.

Despite the many scientific advances in the treatment of HIV, there is still a great need to educate people about how to protect themselves and others from HIV. But the fight is not just about the virus. Stigma and discrimination still remain a reality for people living with HIV. Ignorance still limits their opportunities and prevents them from living full and happy lives.

There is still a vital need to increase awareness, fight prejudice and improve education. To complement the international World AIDS Day campaign “My Health, my Right,” the World Health Organization has adopted the slogan “Everybody Counts,” advocating for access to safe, effective quality and affordable HIV services, medicines, diagnostics and other health commodities for all people who need them. However, this slogan must also be applied to the advocacy for eliminating discrimination and isolation of persons who are living with the virus.

World AIDS Day reminds us that HIV has not gone away. We must redouble our efforts to end it – end isolation, end stigma and end HIV transmission.

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