AIDS Day 2012: Millennials Can Be the First AIDS-Free Generation

Today, December 1, is World AIDS Day. The annual commemoration marks a united global effort working for a cure and is a time to remember those who have died. The day, moreover, serves as a reminder to governments and the public that this deadly pandemic has not gone away. There is a still a dire need to raise awareness to combat stigmas associated with the disease, and for money for research and treatment. Started in 1988, World AIDS Day is the first ever global health day. 

An estimated 34 million people around the world suffer from HIV. Between 1981 and 2007, more than 25 million people have died from the virus. 2.5 million people were infected in the last year alone. 1,000 infants are born with HIV every day. More than half of those living with AIDS today are black. 

Despite these staggeringly somber facts, this year’s World AIDS Day is also tinged with more hope than those past. Public health officials and health care workers say we are entering a turning point with the virus, the new campaign “Getting to Zero” by 2015 pushes for an ends to AIDS-related deaths, new infections and discrimination against those who suffer. In the past ten years, there has been a fifty percent drop in new HIV infections across 25 countries, and in the past two years, access to antiretroviral medication has increased by 63%.

The Obama administration says treating people sooner and more rapid expansion of recently proven tools could eradicate AIDS in even the hardest hit countries. Treating people early in their infection, before they get sick, not only helps them survive but also dramatically cuts the chances that they'll infect others

In advance of World AIDS Day, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton outlined a plan calling for global efforts toward improving treatment and preventing the spread of HIV. "We can reach a point where virtually no children are born with the virus. And as these children become teenagers and adults, they are at a far lower risk of becoming infected than they are today," she said.

Advocacy groups applauded the bold blueprint, but also pointed out that to be effective, maintaining a real momentum in this effort is vital, despite the economic difficulties many countries face today. 

A global total of $16.8 billion was spent fighting AIDS in low-income nations last year. The U.S. government is the leading contributor, putting in approximately $5.6 billion. A report from PEPFAR, the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, outlines how progress could continue at current spending levels, or how faster progress is possible with stepped-up commitments from hard-hit countries themselves. The U.S.’ continuing contribution is far from certain. Congress and Obama are already struggling over looming budget cuts at year's end.

World AIDS Day will be honored with events around the globe and in social media. Leading Twitter hashtags include, #EndofAIDS, #HIV and #1SHARE1CONDOM.