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World AIDS Day: What are we doing and is it enough?

Today is World AIDS Day. The idea to create one day in the calendar that would bring focus and further awareness to the worldwide epidemic of AIDS was first conceived in 1987 by two public information officers at the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva, Switzerland.

Although December 1st was selected to ensure coverage by western media, some feel the choice was poor since it is smack between Thanksgiving and Christmas, with everyone’s mindset and pocketbook on their families at the holidays. The first year of its observance was also an election year in the U.S. and the founders thought the date would be perfect, since the media would be weary of post election coverage.

Whether liked or not, since that December day in 1988, it has been the official day to memorialize those who have been stricken and killed by AIDS worldwide, and revitalize year after year, the need to find a cure.

Between the years of 1981 and 2007 (the last year numbers are available), AIDS has killed more than 25 million people, and an estimated 33.2 million people live with HIV worldwide. These figures make it one of the most destructive epidemics ever recorded. Children are affected in large numbers, and in 2007 alone, approximately 270,000 children died of the deadly disease. This is despite the advancements in understanding the disease, more aggressive antiretroviral drugs, and improved access to treatment and care throughout the world.

World AIDS Day has become a personal day of remembrance, and memorials to honor those who have died are often chosen for this day. The US Government, as well as governments of other nations, observe the event, and generally make annual, official proclamations on World AIDS Day each December 1st.

This year’s theme is: Stop AIDS Keep the Promise: Universal Access and Human Rights.

The annual theme is chosen by the Global Steering Committee of the World AIDS Campaign (WAC), with input from organizations and government agencies involved in the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS.

Past themes have included: AIDS: Men Make a Difference; I Care, Do You?; Women, Girls, HIV and AIDS; and Stigma and Discrimination.

Stop AIDS Keep the Promise has been the primary theme since 2005, with more specific sub-themes, such as this year’s Universal Access and Human Rights. The primary theme is repeated basically as an exclamation point, with the hopes that political leaders, including the G8, will keep the commitment to achieve universal access to HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment, care and support by the year 2010

Despite all the attention, promises, donations, head-nods, and hype, discrimination still rampant, and therefore, in the forefront of many minds on this day.

Rea Carey, Executive Director of Lambda Legal, reflected on the significance of World AIDS Day, and the legal challenges that still lie ahead:

"No one should believe that the epidemic – or the discrimination – is over. This year we filed two new lawsuits challenging HIV discrimination. We represent Melody Rose in Wisconsin who was refused gallbladder surgery after she told the surgeon she has HIV. And we filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of Dr. Robert Franke and his daughter in Arkansas after Dr. Franke was evicted from an assisted living facility because he has HIV. 

"Yet some important progress has been made. After years of advocacy, we celebrated the announced end of the travel and immigration ban for people with HIV. We applaud the Obama Administration for its leadership in ending this government-sponsored discrimination against people living with HIV. 

"It’s long past time to end the stigma and discrimination that people with HIV face in this country. The government should never be in the business of discriminating – nor should health care providers, employers, or anyone else. We call on policy makers at every level to eliminate discriminatory laws and policies."

Hopefully the events throughout the world on this day will remind everyone of these ongoing struggles and continue the charge forward with an even greater resolve.

Celebrities have always been leaders in the global fight against AIDS, always putting their name and face on products, organizations, events – all with the commitment to raise money and awareness for HIV/AIDS.

There are several events today, one at the Nokia Theater in Los Angeles, to benefit “Keep A Child Alive,” an organization cofounded by singer and songwriter Alicia Keys. Supporters can donate $5 and text ALIVE to 90999 for the chance to win a trip with Alicia to Africa and see first hand how Keep A Child Alive helps children with AIDS in that region.

In South Africa, the 5th Annual World AIDS Day Gala Concert, the biggest event on the African continent will be held today.

If you go to Starbuck’s today and buy a Caramel Brule Latte, Peppermint Mocha or Gingerbread Latte, they will donate 5 cents to the (RED) Campaign for each one. The (RED) Campaign was started by Bono and Bobby Shriver in 2006. Since then, according to their website, the amount of money raised is the equivalent to providing 890,000 people with antiretroviral drugs for one year.

Even Twitter has turned RED today.

You can be a part of today simply by buying a latte, texting ALIVE, going to the Gap and buying a RED shirt, holding a memorial, attending an event, or just by making a commitment to yourself to help in the fight in 2010.

For information on events around the world today go to the World AIDS Day Calendar.

To learn more about the World AIDS Day Campaign, visit www.worldaidscampaign.org