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World AIDS Day 2012: "Getting to zero"

SAN DIEGO -- As communities around the globe prepare to mark World AIDS Day on Saturday, Dec. 1, the World Health Organization (WHO) is continuing its focus on the number zero.

With this year’s theme being “Getting to Zero,” the international organization hopes to see a day when there are zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination, and zero AIDS related deaths.

Observed each year on Dec. 1, World AIDS Day brings together people from around the world to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS and demonstrate solidarity in the face of the pandemic. WHO chose the “Getting to Zero” theme last year and has pledged to keep working toward its goal of “zero” through 2015.

WHO says that World AIDS 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.

Although HIV and AIDS have been a part of the public dialogue for over 30 years – in fact, an entire generation has grown up not knowing of a world without AIDS – the statistics are still startling. According to WHO statistics, 34 million people are living with HIV in the world, with 7 million of those people still waiting to access antiretroviral therapy – the most common treatment for HIV.

People who are still waiting to access treatment live in all regions of the world, and only 28% of children who need antiretrovirals are able to obtain them.

WHO says that there are a number of reason for the gap in treatment availability, including geographical factors, stigma, discrimination and legal issues. Those with limited access to health services, including migrants, also face much difficulty finding treatment.

One of WHO’s priorities is to help countries move closer to universal health coverage. It supports countries in improving service delivery in all geographic areas, doing things like increasing access to medicines and diagnostics, and through mechanisms to encourage health workers to work in remote areas.

WHO also supports the establishment and maintenance of financing mechanisms that ensure that no one is thrust into poverty because they have to pay for services out of their own pockets.

While WHO’s goal of “zero” might be years away, the organization remains confident in its fight. Others remain uncertain about the reality of reaching zero anytime soon.

“The goal of ‘Getting to Zero’ is a daunting one, especially considering there are places in the world where the infection rate is rising instead of going down,” Matthew Rodriguez, editorial project manager at TheBody.com, a leading HIV/AIDS resource, said in an interview with the International Business Times.

Rodriguez did, however, stress the importance of marking World AIDS Day each year. “It is an important moment to educate everyone about the HIV/AIDS pandemic, as well as the differences between the epidemic in the U.S. and epidemics elsewhere.”

Education is a key part of the annual World AIDS Day observance, and a number of organizations, local, online, and afar have organized events, campaigns, and workshops around the day to spread awareness within their communities.

Online campaigns

Durex has created an online campaign to donate condoms for the fight against HIV and AIDS. The company has set a target of donating 2,500,000 condoms, which is approximately the number of people infected with HIV last year.

The company will donate one condom for every HIV message shared through a website it has setup for the campaign. Three pre-set HIV messages are available and people have to do is click to share one of the messages and upon doing so, another condom will be donated.

The messages include:

Its #worldaidsday on December 1st. For each RT, Durex will donate a condom for the fight against HIV and AIDS #1share1condom

#zero. The number of new HIV cases we want to see by 2050. Help us get there – RT to donate a condom to an HIV charity #1share1condom

1.7 million died from AIDS-related causes in 2011. Help us stop HIV & AIDS. Share this message to donate a Durex condom #1share1condom

As of Friday morning, the company will donate 1,125,759 condoms.

Local observances

In San Diego, World AIDS Day events will be held in Hillcrest, at UC San Diego (UCSD) and in North County.

Mama’s Kitchen’s 20th annual World AIDS Day Tree of Life ceremony will be held Saturday at 6 pm. The event has become a cherished tradition in the local community, and will include words from local officials, holiday carols by the San Diego Gay Men’s Chorus, and the lighting of the large holiday Christmas tree that stands in the center of the ground level plaza at the Village Hillcrest shopping center, located at 3965 Fifth Ave. in Hillcrest.

At UCSD, a week of events will mark World AIDS Day will end today with a number of events on the La Jolla campus, including a 5 pm ceremony featuring a performance by the San Diego Women’s Chorus. The campus has a portion of the AIDS Memorial Quilt on display, and most events are open to the public. More information is HERE.

The North County LGBTQ Resource Center will host its 13th annual World AIDS Day Candlelight Vigil on Saturday at 6 pm, followed by a dinner. The event will include speakers, free HIV testing, and music. A portion of the AIDS Memorial Quilt is also on display in North County at Pilgrim Church, located at 2020 Chestnut Ave. in Carlsbad. For more information click HERE.