The key objective of World AIDS Day 2009 campaign is to provide universal access and basic rights to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support embodied in its theme - ''Universal Access and Human Rights". The Red Ribbon has been a powerful symbol associated with the fight against the epidemic, which has helped increase public awareness of HIV/AIDS worldwide.
According to the 2009 AIDS Epidemic Update, the numbers of new HIV infections have shown a remarkable decline which is a pat on the back for the HIV prevention programmes. Indeed, anti-retroviral therapy has benefited in preventing new infections, especially among children. This has been possible only due to improved access to treatment among HIV-positive mothers, which has helped prevent transmission of the virus from mother to child.
Michel Sidibe, Executive Director of UNAIDS said in a UNAIDS press release, "The good news is that we have evidence that the declines we are seeing are due, at least in part, to HIV prevention. However, the findings also show that prevention programming is often off the mark and that if we do a better job of getting resources and programmes to where they will make most impact, quicker progress can be made and more lives saved."
• According to UNAIDS statistics, an estimated 33.4 million people are living with HIV. Among these 2.5 million are children.
• Sadly, one out of three people escape diagnosis of the condition.
• More than half of infected people are in the prime of their youth. Statistics also point out that they do not survive beyond 10 years after diagnosis.
• In India, there are about 2.5 million HIV+ individuals of whom 1.7 lakh are in the state of Tamilnadu.
• Mortality due to AIDS stands at a staggering 2.1 million people worldwide. Among the dead, 330,000 are children.
• According to a voluntary service group, women and girls in the third world are disproportionately victimized by HIV/AIDS because they face consistent discrimination.
• Alarming statistics in China have shown 60% female sex workers do not use condoms with clients.
WHO: Number of people living with HIV is up 20%
AIDS prevention programmes have certainly brought down the rate of new infections by 17% in a span of eight years, yet the number of people living with the infection is up 20%.
Even though in most regions the AIDS epidemic has stabilized with lesser incidences of new infections, in parts of Central Asia, Eastern Europe, there has been an increase in the rate of new infections. The worst affected region was found to be Sub-Saharan Africa, accounting for 71% of new HIV infections.
Asia came second to Sub-Saharan Africa with reference to the number of people living with HIV with 50% of Asia's HIV cases living in India. The main cause of the spread of HIV in India is found to be sexual transmission.
Surveys conducted in India found HIV prevalence among 14.5 % of female sex workers especially in four states of South India., putting sex workers at high risk of infection.
Update on the HIV/AIDS Bill in India
In 2006, the HIV/AIDS bill was drafted with a view to protect the rights of HIV infected people and give a boost to prevention of AIDS/HIV programmes. Around that time discussions were held with people at the helm as well as infected people, drug users and sex workers. Despite all the attention, the bill has not seen the light of day, and is on the back burner for the past three years.
Oscar Fernandes, chairman of the Parliamentary Forum for HIV and AIDS, has confirmed that discussions on the HIV/AIDS Bill have resumed with the ministries of health, law and social welfare.
Expressing the urgency of the bill to accord basic rights to HIV infected people and step-up prevention of HIV-AIDS, Oscar Fernandes said, "The consultation work on the bill has been expedited as we want it to be tabled in the next session of parliament. It is a serious matter and we want it be passed as soon as possible. It is unfortunate that the bill has been delayed and we are making all efforts to get it passed. The bill will ensure human rights and universal access to prevention, treatment, care and support to the HIV affected people."
Key Focus Areas
The numbers of countries that offer protection for people with HIV has grown manifold, yet nearly one third of countries are still inadequately protected and worse, are plagued by stigma and discrimination. HIV services need to be improved for those on drugs, sex workers, women and adolescents adopting a priority-based approach.
The impact of effective leadership has resulted in many countries formulating national policies on AIDS. However, many of these policies could not be carried forward in certain countries due to lack of funds. Political leaders will need to make this a national priority and iron out impediments for effective implementation of AIDS policies.
Unfortunately, for every 3 steps we take forward, we also go 6 steps backward. There is still a huge gap in the ratio of number of patients who get access to HIV treatment versus the huge number of new infections. Rate of infection is reckoned to be 2.7 times faster than the numbers having access to treatment.
Certainly, there has been a marked improvement in the numbers having access to HIV services - treatment, care, prevention and support. Though, awareness measures have speeded up worldwide, the statistics in middle-income countries leave little to be desired- only 31% of people actually receive treatment for HIV.
It is imperative that individuals ascertain their rights and stand up strongly against stigma and discrimination. It is in the hands of the young to adopt leadership roles and take the initiatives forward to Stop AIDS by enabling worldwide reach of prevention of the disease while ensuring treatment, care and support for HIV/AIDS patients.
The message to the world on World AIDS Day 2009 as communicated by WHO Director General Margaret Chan in her statement to UNAIDS reads : "International and national investment in HIV treatment scale-up have yielded concrete and measurable results. We cannot let this momentum wane. Now is the time to redouble our efforts, and save many more lives."
Sport the Red Ribbon, Spread the Message, Act Fast and Act Now to Save the World from HIV-AIDS!