Reflections on the Epidemic - World AIDS Day 2012 series
A series of articles by guest writers for World AIDS Day
Part of AVERT's World AIDS Day 2012 campaign, ‘Reflections on the Epidemic’ are a series of articles by guest writers.
Our guest writers range from global leaders, writers, experts, activists, physicians and people personally affected by HIV and AIDS; and they represent various countries, experiences and backgrounds from all over the world.
We are grateful to all our guest writers for their effort and the diverse and insightful viewpoints that they contributed to the world’s response to HIV and AIDS.
You can also see all articles and writers in this series at the end of every article.
This World AIDS Day, AVERT is exploring the broad theme of ‘awareness’. This is a time when HIV must sit at the forefront of people’s minds, at the top of priority lists. Progress is exciting, with 700,000 less HIV infections last year than in 2001,1 but still we see the need for awareness at all levels. Politicians and leaders need to know how laws can fuel an epidemic based on stigma, people need to know the basics of protecting their own sexual health, half of the people living with HIV are unaware that they are infected and the world needs to become aware that HIV is an issue that affects us all.
At AVERT we believe that education and open, honest discussion is key to curbing the epidemic. That is why this World AIDS Day, on one of the most popular HIV information websites in the world, we have brought together global leaders, writers, experts, activists, physicians and people personally affected by HIV and AIDS to share their insights on the epidemic. Together these articles tell a rich story of where we have come from, as a global family, where we are now and where we’re going. Through ‘Reflections on the Epidemic’, AVERT aims to create awareness, spark discussion, end the stigma that people living with HIV have to live with and encourage more people to know their status.
Education is needed now to stop the complacency and risk-taking that are fuelling the epidemic. Levels of knowledge and awareness of HIV/AIDS around the world remain worryingly low. In 26 of 31 countries with a generalised epidemic, fewer than 50 percent of young women have comprehensive and correct knowledge about HIV and AIDS.2 A lack of awareness around how HIV is transmitted has resulted in the many misunderstandings and taboos which surround HIV and AIDS today. We need a global awareness of the effects of stigma. People living with HIV must no longer also live with the stigma and discrimination that prevents people from disclosing their status, protecting their partners and living their lives freely without fear of rejection.
Young people are at the epicentre of the epidemic; both in the sense that they are disproportionately vulnerable but also in that they have huge potential to change the next generation. In Lorrie Fair’s contribution to ‘Reflections on the Epidemic’, she points out that where HIV prevalence is highest among adults, we must not forget that in many cases, the virus was actually contracted whilst in adolescence. It is therefore imperative to prevent new infections amongst this age group by improving young people’s knowledge of HIV risks through better prevention strategies and support for young people’s efforts to protect themselves and others. Education, Georgia Arnold stresses, is key to curbing the epidemic, and we must ensure that this education is age-appropriate, relevant and accessible to young people. We need to find new ways to deliver the message. That is why AVERT’s new campaign, ‘Get Plugged In’ focuses on empowering young people to use technology as an HIV prevention and sex education tool. Through this campaign we aim to encourage young people to take control of their sexual health, protect themselves from HIV, and also share information with their peers.
Another way that AVERT will engage young people is through harnessing the power of sport and its huge youth following, by unveiling the world’s largest AIDS awareness ribbon at a major football / soccer match at Liverpool Football Club’s Anfield Stadium in the United Kingdom, this World AIDS Day. And in Malawi and South Africa, our projects are using innovative means to empower young people to protect themselves and to mitigate the effects of HIV on the younger generation. It is only through a focus on the awareness of young people that we can move towards an AIDS free generation.
However, the road to ending AIDS must not overshadow the 34 million people living with HIV today, with approximately 2.5 million new infections each year.3 The journey of antiretrovirals is a long one, from Greg Louganis’s moving account of how the arrival of new antiretroviral drugs drastically improved his quality of life, to Dr Gottfried Hirnschall’s assertion that we need a continuum of care where every person who tests positive can achieve viral suppression. Dr Daniella Mark warns us that in all the excitement of prevention successes, we risk deprioritising treatment. Of the 14.8 million people eligible for HIV treatment, only 8 million receive it - governments therefore need to accelerate efforts to extend it further.4
We also need a world where governments are aware that laws which penalise people most at risk of HIV are, as Shereen El Feki says, ‘fostering, not fighting, the global epidemic’. This year, the International AIDS Conference was for the first time held in the USA after the lifting of the discriminatory travel ban on people living with HIV. But punitive laws still prevented drug users and sex workers from attending, people whose voices need to be heard if we are to end AIDS.
Rather than criminalise people, the world needs to enable leaders to emerge from communities most affected by the epidemic. Dr Alice Welbourn laments the lack of women’s voices in the global AIDS response and argues that without the inclusion of women, barriers to the response cannot be overcome. This echoes AVERTS belief that people and communities affected by HIV must be an integral part of the response.
Tony Schnell, Director of the AVERT’s partner project Sisonke, asks us not to forget the elderly, so many of whom have had no choice but to care for their orphaned grandchildren on a pension that is barely enough for one. There is an urgent need to support the elderly, socially, psychologically, and economically both for their own sake and for that of the children. As Tony warns, the elderly’s potential to contribute hugely to the response should neither be overlooked nor undervalued.
As AVERT unveils the world’s largest AIDS awareness ribbon this World AIDS Day, we want to unveil a future where the insights that we have brought together in ‘Reflections on the Epidemic’ translate into a world that shows awareness of HIV and AIDS at all levels – awareness of how to prevent infections, awareness around reaching the people who need treatment, awareness of how to create a world where people feel comfortable getting tested and being aware of their status, a world where nobody living with HIV is discriminated against. We need a new generation of awareness.
Written by Madeline Denny, on behalf of AVERT. Madeline writes for the website, AVERT.org. For further information on AVERT see About AVERT page.
Image: 'Children playing at a centre for orphans and vulnerable children affected by HIV/AIDS in rural Eastern Cape (South Africa)', copyright AVERT.
Meeting the challenge of stigma in Iran
Words are not enough: Where is the genuine support for an AIDS-free generation?
Going beyond the silver bullet approach
A new generation of awareness
Mothers at the forefront of change
A few simple actions against AIDS
The reality of beginning the end of AIDS
In the balance — HIV and the Law
Striving for an AIDS free generation of adolescents
A broken unity: An American reflection on the epidemic
Universal access for people who use drugs: Not just a pipe dream
In pursuit of a cure
The future of antiretroviral treatment
Ending paediatric AIDS
A future of possibilities
Riding the waves of HIV
The Paediatric HIV response in the context of AIDS optimism
HIV/AIDS Care begins at home
HIV/AIDS in Uganda: Myth to reality
Why beauty is a great weapon in the fight against HIV/AIDS
HIV Walk, unravels the epidemic
The importance of Parliamentary voices in the AIDS response
Women breaking the stereotype
Resources for a rights based approach to address the HIV/AIDS pandemic
AIDS - It’s not over
Backing the community response
Gogo-getters become elders
Getting to zero
The search for common humanity at the heart of the AIDS response
AIDS is still hot in India
Why involve women with HIV?
All opinions expressed in 'Reflections on the Epidemic' do not necessarily represent those of AVERT.
- 1. UNAIDS (2012) 'World AIDS Day Report - Results'
- 2. UNAIDS (2012) 'Global Report: UNAIDS Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic 2012'
- 3. UNAIDS (2012) 'Global Report: UNAIDS Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic 2012'
- 4. UNAIDS (2012) 'World AIDS Day Report - Results'