Today (Sunday 1 December ) is World AIDS Day. Founded in 1988, the event provides an opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV, show support for people living with the virus, and commemorate those who have died from an AIDS-related illness.
The theme of this year's event is ‘Communities make the difference’.
The commemoration of World AIDS Day is an important opportunity to recognise the essential role that communities have played and continue to play in the AIDS response at international, national and local levels.
Communities contribute to the AIDS response in many different ways. Their leadership and advocacy ensure that the response remains relevant and grounded, keeping people at the centre and leaving no one behind. Communities include peer educators, networks of people living with or affected by HIV, such as gay men and other men who have sex with men, people who inject drugs and sex workers, women and young people, counsellors, community health workers, door-to-door service providers, civil society organisations and grass-roots activists.
In a speech to mark World AIDS Day, Winnie Byanyima, the Executive Director of UNAIDS - the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS - said: “In the face of adversity, communities of gay men, sex workers and people who use drugs have organised themselves to claim their right to health as equal citizens.
“On World AIDS Day, UNAIDS salutes the achievements of activists and communities in the struggle against HIV. We remember and we honour all those whom we have lost along the way. Activists challenged the silence and brought life-saving services to their communities.
“Let me remind you, governments committed to at least 30% of HIV services being community-led. They also agreed that six percent of all HIV funding go to community mobilisation, promoting human rights and changing harmful laws that act as barriers to ending AIDS.
“Let’s be clear, defending human rights and challenging discrimination, criminalisation and stigma is risky work today. So we call on governments to open a space so that activists can do the work they do best. With communities in the lead and governments living up to their promises, we will end AIDS.”
More than 101,600 people are living with HIV in the UK. Globally, there are an estimated 36.7 million people who have the virus. Despite HIV only being identified in 1984, more than 35 million people have died of HIV or AIDS, making it one of the most destructive pandemics in history.
Today, scientific advances have been made in treatment, there are laws to protect people living with the virus, and we understand so much more about the condition. Despite this, each year in the UK over 4,300 people are diagnosed with HIV. People do not know the facts about how to protect themselves and others, and stigma and discrimination remain a reality for many people living with the condition.
World AIDS Day is important because it reminds the public and government that HIV has not gone away - there is still a vital need to raise money, increase awareness, fight prejudice and improve education.
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