World AIDS Day brings awareness to prevention, stigma

Today, December 1 is World AIDS Day, and in the midst of the holiday rush provides good reason to pause and reflect.

This year’s theme is “Universal Access and Human Rights” as part of the Light for Rights campaign. Created primarily to cut infection rates and stigmas associated with the disease, World AIDS Day was also established to shed light on past and present victims of this disease. An adversary for 30 years now, AIDS has claimed millions of lives and it is estimated there are close to 33 million people worldwide currently living with the HIV.

Although significant progress has been made in HIV prevention, treatment and care, the focus this year is to make human rights integral to the response. The 2010 Global Update on the AIDS Epidemic, released by the Joint United Nations Program, shows major gaps in the implementation of human rights commitments at national and regional levels. These are critical in helping to guarantee access to health services, education and work security.

The stigma and discrimination of HIV/AIDS exists worldwide, although manifested differently across nations, communities, religious groups and individuals. Concurrent with other forms of stigma and discrimination, such as racism, homophobia and even misogyny, it creates difficulties both on a personal level and interferes with the fight against the AIDS epidemic as a whole.

The UNAIDS report paints a sobering picture as it points out the obstacles many face, not only in prevention of the disease but in universal access to treatment and care. Stigmas have been shown to deter governments from taking fast, effective action and individuals from seeking out education, testing or treatment.

In support of World AIDS Day, the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon had this to say:

“Stigma remains the single most important barrier to public action. It is a main reason why too many people are afraid to see a doctor to determine whether they have the disease, or to seek treatment if so. It helps make AIDS the silent killer,   because people fear the social disgrace of speaking about it, or taking easily available precautions. Stigma is a chief reason why the AIDS epidemic continues to devastate societies around the world.”

The global community must be active and diligent in knowing who is spreading fear and lies as well as attacking basic human rights and creating this barrier. One such group is The Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, a conservative group that counts Ron Paul and John Cooksey as members. Although the group describes itself as non-partisan, it promotes theories that falsely claim that the AIDS epidemic isn’t real and that HIV does not cause AIDS. It has also suggested that the so-called “gay male lifestyle” shortens one life expectancy by 20 years.

The National Organization for Marriage is another group that injects fear and misinformation into the issue of HIV/AIDS by equating same-sex marriage with the spread of the disease. Maggie Gallagher, former president of the National Organization for Marriage, and current president of the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy, a nonprofit organization which campaigns against marriage rights believes “homosexuality is a sexual disability” and is against both HIV education and prevention. Gallagher tirelessly promotes her belief that abstinence-only sex education should be the sole curriculum taught in schools. She does not believe in educating students about birth control or how to prevent STDs through the use of condoms or safe-sex techniques. She has actually advocated for discontinuing all safe-sex education in public schools.

The Adelaide Institute, established by Dr. Gerald Fredrick Töben, is an anti-Semitic group in Australia that promotes Holocaust and AIDS denial conspiracies. He rejects the existence of HIV all together. Thabo Mbeki, president of South Africa from 1999-2008, devastated his country by denying the existence of AIDS. He failed to authorize the implementation of anti-retroviral drugs and instead sponsored an effort to produce generic medicines which contributed to 365,000 deaths.

Every World AIDS Day is forging another step toward preventing this deadly disease. Let’s work together, not just today but every day, to fight both this devastating disease and the stigmas attached to it.  Join in and remember not just those who have lost their battle but those who continue to fight. Educate to eradicate. And if you can, donate.