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December 1: World AIDS Day

1 December 2013

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HIV/AIDS remains one of the world’s most significant public health challenges, particularly in low-and-middle-income countries. This year’s World AIDS Day marks the beginning of a fourth decade living with this global killer.

Internationally, there are more than 34 million people living with HIV, and more than 21 million people have died from the AIDS virus between the years 1981 and 2007, making it one of the most destructive pandemics in history.

World AIDS Day, the first ever global health day and a day for people to unite worldwide in the fight against HIV/AIDS, is a day to show support for people living with HIV/AIDS and commemorate those who have died from the disease.

Since December 1, 1988, World AIDS Day has been bringing to people’s attention the worldwide challenges and consequences of the epidemic and sharing messages of hope, compassion and understanding about HIV/AIDS to the world, in order to prevent the spread of HIV and improve the lives of people living with the virus.

World AIDS Day is an opportunity for many to learn about HIV and put their knowledge into action.“It is crucial for us to acknowledge the significance of World AIDS Day as so many of us have friends, colleagues or family members touched by this illness. We have all been affected personally in some way, or have lost a loved one or know someone who is ill, alone or suffering.  Today is a day to remember each of these special people and show our support, in whatever way we can”, says Creative Consulting & Development Works Director, Lindy Briginshaw.

In South Africa, believed to have more people living with HIV/AIDS than any other country, World AIDS Day was first recognized in 1996 when the Department Of Health organised the National World AIDS Day events in Bloemfontein, Free State, and in Pretoria, Gauteng. South Africa has also taken part in strategic priorities for dealing with the dual epidemics of HIV and tuberculosis (TB).

Despite these efforts, the country has long struggled with denialism of, and misinformation about, HIV/AIDS from local to government levels and across all cultural groups, leading to shockingly high rates of HIV/AIDS prevalence in seven of the country’s nine provinces. KwaZulu-Natal, the province with the highest rate of HIV infection, has a prevalence of just over 25%.

The 2007 UNAIDS report estimated that some 5,700,000 South Africans were living with HIV/AIDS, just under 12% of South Africa’s population of 48 million at that time. In the adult population, excluding children, the rate is 18.10% on average. The number of infected people is larger than in any other country in the world, and the other top five countries with the highest HIV/AIDS prevalence are all in Southern Africa.

It is evident that HIV prevalence rates have much to do with poor development indicators in sub-Saharan African countries, and particularly those countries who are severely affected by the epidemic yet are doing little about it. The Institute of Statistics and Applied Economics, Uganda, reveals that countries in East and Southern Africa have the highest HIV/AIDS epidemics, a worrying indication through the health and development sectors. Since the 1990s, Human Development Index trends which measure the level of a country’s development, have since deteriorated in all countries with high and increasing prevalence of HIV. “HIV has become a manageable condition if people are aware of their test results, so we encourage everyone to get tested and know their HIV status,” says Andrea Hanner, STD/HIV Programme Manager in the United States.

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Commemoration of World AIDS Day is symbolised by the red ribbon. The red ribbon is the universal symbol worn to signify awareness and support to those living with HIV. The red colour was chosen for its boldness and visibility, symbolising passion and love. The aim for this international symbol is to encourage people to talk about HIV, and to discontinue people from stigmatising others because of their status.

The global theme for World AIDS Day, 1 December 2013, announced in 2011 and running until 2015, involves the three messages: “Zero New HIV infections”, “Zero Discrimination” and “Zero AIDS-related deaths”. Each year, governments and civil society sectors choose one or all of the Zeros that best address their country’s situations. This theme seeks to encourage individuals and communities to have non-discriminatory and non-judgemental access to adequate HIV, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and tuberculosis (TB) prevention, treatment, care and support.

So what’s happening across South Africa to commemorate World AIDS Day? South Africa commemorates World AIDS Day on 1 December 2013 with the theme, Get wise. Get tested. Get circumcised – Become part of the response and show that South Africa is taking responsibility on the path to Zero. The commemorations focus on the roll out of these two key HIV prevention interventions: the launch of a revitalised HIV Counselling and Testing (HCT) campaign and a campaign to expand access and the uptake of medical male circumcision (MMC) services.

In Cape Town, The Africa Centre for HIV and AIDS Management at Stellenbosch University presents the 9th Annual World Aids Day Gala Concert at the Artscape Opera House on Sunday 1 December 2013 at 19:00, while also acknowledging the “16 Days of Activism for No Violence Against Women and Children”. The dress code is formal and guests are encouraged to add a touch of red to commemorate the occasion. For more information, contact +27 (0) 21 808 3006.

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