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Nations mark World AIDS Day

11-30-10 Feature Story:

First observed on December 1, 1988, World AIDS Day has become a major international health event, providing opportunities to raise awareness about the epidemic, commemorate those who have died, celebrate milestones in increasing access to treatment and prevention services, and inspire positive action steps to fight the disease at the local level.

The worldwide effort to address the devastation and prevention of HIV/AIDS began in the mid 1980s when the World Health Organization (WHO) assumed the lead responsibility on AIDS in the United Nations (UN). However, by the mid-1990s, the epidemic's growing reach made it clear that a comprehensive, UN-based approach was critical. Acknowledging that no single UN organization could undertake the range of actions necessary to overcome the epidemic, officials decided to combine the expertise, resources and networks of various agencies. In 1996, six UN bodies were brought together to form the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS - or UNAIDS. The organizations include the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), United Nations Development Program (UNDP), United Nations Population Fund (UNPF), United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), WHO and the World Bank.

Working together through the UNAIDS Secretariat, the organizational sponsors strive to form strategic alliances with other UN agencies, national governments, corporations, religious organizations, community-based groups, non-governmental organizations, media and regional and national networks of people living with HIV/AIDS. This collaborative work is primarily focused on improving the quality and scope of ongoing prevention, care and support and addressing the societal factors that increase people's vulnerability to HIV/AIDS.

This year's theme, "Universal Access and Human Rights," underscores the important role that Human Rights policies play in responding to HIV/AIDS. United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon recently reported to the UN General Assembly that there are fewer infections and deaths in countries where Human Rights are promoted to protect people living with HIV and those at greater risk for becoming infected with the virus.

According to the UNAIDS Report on Global AIDS Epidemic, there are 33.3 million people living with HIV, 2.5 million of whom are children. During 2009, 2.6 million people became newly infected with the virus and an estimated 1.8 million people died from AIDS. But there is good news, too. New data gathered from 182 countries show that steady progress is being made toward expanding universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support. For example:

  • More than 5 million people are now receiving HIV treatment;
  • HIV infections are declining in many countries most affected by the epidemic; and
  • Virtual elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV is possible.

Click here to read the full report.

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