World AIDS Day 2011- “Getting to Zero”
The first World AIDS Day (WAD) happened 23 years ago on December 1st to raise awareness of what became, and arguably still remains, the most stigmatized virus on our planet. Stigma is defined as “a connotation of disgrace associated with certain things”. Stigma continues to impact millions of people around the world, and stigma is intrinsically linked to the reason approximately 60 million people have contracted the virus.
Since the first diagnoses in 1981 UNAIDS reports that HIV/AIDS has killed approximately 30 million people worldwide. This staggering number falls just short of the total population of Canada. One can only speculate the lives that may have been spared had stigma not impeded the response needed to stem the tide of infections and subsequent deaths.
According to UNAIDS estimates, there are now 34 million people living with HIV. During 2010 some 2.7 million people became newly infected with the virus, including an estimated 390,000 children. Despite a significant decline in the estimated number of AIDS-related deaths over the last five years, in 2010 there were still an estimated 1.8 million AIDS-related deaths.
In the 1980s, HIV, the virus known to cause AIDS, initiated its assault on gay men and Haitians and moved into other populations such as injection drug users and members of Aboriginal community. While many dismissed AIDS as a mostly "gay disease", the insidious virus began to take hold across sub-Saharan Africa in what became a well-publicized pandemic of enormous proportion. Suddenly AIDS was black, straight and someplace else! While many political leaders wouldn’t acknowledge emergence of the virus in the early days, activists and humanitarians around the world launched fervent efforts to bring about a response commensurate with rising infection rates and the mounting death toll.
World AIDS Day was launched to increase awareness, fight pervasive stigma and, in part, to raise funds. Today WAD continues to be an important annual marker of the work done within this movement. It is also a day to take time to remember those we have lost, honour those living with HIV/AIDS and celebrate all that has been accomplished in the movement. WAD is also important to help remind people that HIV/AIDS has not gone away and that there are many things still to be done in HIV/AIDS work.
Because of the development and improvement of life saving medications over the past 15 years the situation with HIV/AIDS has improved for millions living with the virus. This “optimism” has inspired the new WAD campaign entitled “Getting to Zero”. The theme will be used until 2015 and echoes the UNAIDS vision of achieving “Zero new HIV infections, Zero discrimination and Zero AIDS-related deaths.” It’s an ambitious vision and one that Regional HIV/AIDS Connection fully endorses.
However in order to realize such an ambitious vision it will require a critical mass shift in how we think about HIV/AIDS. The fact is more and more people are living with HIV each day. These same people are often living in fear from stigma imposed on them by society. Together we can get to the root of HIV/AIDS discrimination - stigma. Those of us in this movement call upon society to examine attitudes, beliefs and biases about HIV/AIDS. It is time to abandon stigmatizing thoughts about the virus and those living with or at risk for HIV/AIDS.
People who work daily in AIDS service organizations know that not only “certain kinds of people” get HIV/AIDS. There are certain kinds of risk factors related to acquiring HIV, but we refute that people living with HIV/AIDS should be categorized as innocent victims and those who deserve the virus. We encourage you to take some time to learn about HIV risk at www.hivaidsconnection.ca and ask yourself, “Could it ever happen to me?”
Check your HIV/AIDS bias and get stigma to zero!