When another national AIDS day is not enough!

World AIDS Day has been acknowledged and celebrated every year since 1988. This global event is meant to bring people together from around the world to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS and demonstrate international solidarity in the face of the pandemic. The day is an opportunity for public and private partners to spread awareness about the status of the pandemic and encourage progress in HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and care in high prevalence countries and around the world. Outside of World AIDS Day, there are several other opportunities to shine a light on the pandemic the HIV/AIDS crisis has become. There is the National HIV Testing Day, Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day and National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day and these are just a few among the several other national spotlights used to educate, inform and highlight the devastation of this disease. These national and international days of observation and reflection are important because they highlight the significant improvements in preventive care, education, awareness and treatment which has encouraged a decrease in infection rates and an increase in the lifespan of people with HIV/AIDS. And as a result, there has been improvement in the Global AIDS epidemic. The infection rates in some countries have decreased according to an article on allAfrica.com. “Globally, new HIV infections fell to 2.5 million last year from 2.6 million in 2010 and represented a 20-percent drop from 2001, according to UNAIDS.” Yet, the infection rate still continues to grow in certain communities. The CDC reports that, “The number of people living with HIV infection in the United States (HIV prevalence) is higher than ever before.” As we progress, we also remain the same and in some incidence, we are getting worse. Many are still not hearing the PSAs, reading the brochures or watching the tv specials or documentaries. Gay men or men who have sex with men (MSM), specifically black, white and Latino men, are still among the highest inflected. Especially, young black gay men, who are hit the hardest by new HIV-infection rates as noted in a recent NewsOne.com article. “Overall, an estimated 12,200 new HIV infections occurred in 2010 among young people aged 13-24, with young gay and bisexual men and African Americans hit harder by HIV than their peers, the report shows.” In addition, young people overall are also among the hardest hit according to a feature on the PBS News Hour. “Of the 50,000 new HIV infections in the U.S. each year, more than one in four affect young people ages 13 to 24, more than half of whom don’t know they’re infected.”

We are failing in our messaging, prevention efforts and education to our youth. The information is not getting out and therefore, folks are not getting tested and into treatment. According to thinkprogess.org, “The CDC report recommends increasing education programs for youth that emphasize HIV prevention, a discrepancy that is currently furthered by abstinence-only curricula in schools across the country. Just 20 states mandate that public schools must provide both HIV education and sexual education in their health classes, and only 12 states have standards in place to require medically accurate information about HIV in the classrooms.”

There are things we can all to do to make sure the progress we are making is felt all around. As individuals, we can change how we communicate to our children, family and friends about safe sex and HIV. As community leaders, advocates and nonprofits, we can engage in a multi-tier plan that includes partnerships with city, state and federal agencies to push the President’s National AIDS Action Plan into action, work collaboratively with churches across the country, specifically Black churches and mandate safe sex education in all middle and high schools in the US. Lastly, addressing issues around stigma and fear while pushing for HIV testing in ER rooms and for annual physical exams. These are a few steps that help us all get a little closer to an end for HIV/AIDS. So, let’s continue to observe World AIDS Day and every other national and international day that highlights the devastation of this disease and encourages prevention, care and treatment. The theme for this year’s World AIDS Day observation is “Getting to zero: zero new HIV infections. Zero discrimination. Zero AIDS related deaths.” With each step we all take, we can get a little closer to that goal!

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