By: Joanna Hoffman, Program Associate for Women Deliver
Today marks World AIDS Day, and with it comes reflections over both progress made and what lays ahead in preventing HIV/AIDS transmission, exploring treatment options for those infected, and removing stigma and discrimination from the disease. A new report by UNAIDS provides ground-breaking data from 182 countries, and is hailed by the Director of the World Bank’s Global HIV/AIDS Program, Dr. David Wilson, as “one of the most encouraging and substantive reports on the course of the epidemic we’ve seen in years.”
In the past years, cases of mother-to-child transmission of HIV have decreased substantially. Young pregnant mothers in seven countries who attended antenatal clinics were shown to be at least 25% less likely to contract the disease. Furthermore, access to services for preventing transmission to children has increased worldwide. In 2009, approximately 370,000 children contracted HIV during the perinatal and breastfeeding period, down from 500,000 in 2001. Transmission among youth has also decreased: Among young people in 15 of the most severely affected countries, HIV prevalence decreased by more than 25% as a result of the adoption of safer sex practices.
Despite these strides forward, alarming disparities remain. Women make up over half (52% worldwide) of all people living with HIV, yet they are often disempowered from reducing their risk of infection, either from a lack of information, lack of access to resources, lack of power to make decisions about their health, or all three. In sub-Saharan Africa, more women than men are living with HIV, and young women aged 15–24 years are as much as eight times more likely than men to be HIV positive. Within the US, the number of women living with HIV has tripled in the last two decades.
If the unmet need for family planning was achieved and women were given power to make health-related decisions, HIV/AIDS transmission for pregnant women would be significantly reduced. As shown in the UNAIDS report, over 25% of women living with HIV in some countries do not wish to be currently pregnant or would like to delay their next pregnancy by two years. Scaling-up the quality and accessibility of family planning services and the delivery of maternal, newborn and child health care would produce better overall health outcomes and a lower rate of mother to child transmission of HIV.
This World AIDS day, there are many actions you can take to support research and advocacy efforts worldwide. Some are listed below, but perhaps the most important steps begin with you: make sure you and your loved ones are educated on HIV/AIDS transmission and services, and get tested regularly.
- Several celebrities including Lady Gaga, Kim Kardashian, Ryan Seacrest and Justin Timberlake have “ended their digital life” today by pledging to stay off social networks until 1 million dollars are raised for Keep a Child Alive, an organization supporting treatment and care for those affected by HIV/AIDS. Donate to BuyLife to bring celebrities “back to life”.
- Amplify your voice: From December 1 through December 8, Advocates for Youth will be hosting a World AIDS Day blogathon on Amplify as part of the global movement of young people fighting to end the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Share your personal reflections about how HIV and AIDS have affected you, post your perspective on the policies and issues that affect the health of young people around the world, or upload pictures or video exploring the experience of HIV and AIDS during the first 10 years of the new millennium.
- World Vision works to provide support for children affected by HIV/AIDS. Spread the word on World AIDS Day by posting their ribbon on your Facebook page.
- MTV is encouraging young people to GYT (Get Yourself Tested) with special World AIDS Day programing that includes airing of the new documentary, "Me, Myself and HIV." Find info on the launch of the film here.
- Today only, when you buy a handcrafted drink from Starbucks, 5 cents goes towards the Global Fund to help fight AIDS in Africa. Visit the Starbucks website to find a store near you.
- Visit the World AIDS Day official website and find out about actions you can take globally and locally.
- Check out Huffington Post’s list of the best books to read in order to learn more about HIV/AIDS.
- Light For Rights events are happening in cities and towns all over the world and will bring thousands of people together on World AIDS Day, December 1, 2010, to honor those lost to AIDS and to highlight the fundamental rights we all share. You can also use their template to write a letter to your local news editor about World AIDS Day.
- Read today’s edition of the UK newspaper The Independent, featuring Elton John as a guest editor. Today’s paper features more than a dozen pages of stories related to the fight against HIV, including contributions from some of John's famous friends, including Elizabeth Taylor, Stephen Fry and Bill Clinton. Revenue from today's edition will go to the Elton John AIDS Foundation.
- Check out the national HIV education campaign Living Positive By Design by Jack Mackenroth from the popular television series "Project Runway”.
- Join the Facing AIDS initiative to support the facilitation of access to federal resources for the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS. You can download and print a sign from the organization's website, add your own personal message about why you're "facing AIDS," and then snap your photo. Then, upload your handiwork to a Flickr stream alongside photos of other participants. By openly discussing and aligning yourself with the fight against AIDS, the group argues, you are helping to reduce the stigma associated with the disease.