World AIDS Day

The theme for World AIDS Day 2021 is “Ending the HIV Epidemic: Equitable Access, Everyone’s Voice.

World AIDS Day was first observed in 1988 at the height of an epidemic that not only took far too many lives but was also misunderstood and stigmatized. Today, we continue to raise awareness and speak out against HIV stigma. 2021 marks 40 years since the first five cases of what later became known as AIDS were officially reported and honor the more than 36 million people, including 700,000 in the United States, who have since died from AIDS-related illnesses.

HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that attacks the immune system and left untreated, causes AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome), an irreversible immune system disorder. AIDS has been a healthcare threat for forty years, and today it still threatens communities around the world. According to the World Health Organization, although the world has made significant progress in recent decades, important global targets for 2020 were not met. “Division, disparity and disregard for human rights are among the failures that allowed HIV to become and remain a global health crisis. Now, COVID-19 is exacerbating inequities and disruptions to services and making the lives of many people living with HIV more challenging.” This year’s theme places a renewed focus on reaching people who have been left behind and highlights the growing inequalities in crucial medical access.

The Global AIDS Strategy 2021-2026 - End Inequalities. End AIDS., produced by UNAIDS, also provides a bold new approach to addressing these issues, using an “inequalities lens” to close the gaps that are preventing progress towards ending AIDS. This effort aims to prioritize people who do not yet have access to life-saving HIV services and sets bold targets to get every country on-track to end AIDS as a public health threat by 2030.

The Strategy also draws on key lessons learned from the intersecting HIV and COVID-19 pandemics. “Many of the inequalities that facilitated the spread of the AIDS pandemic are getting worse and continue to fan the spread of HIV in many parts of the world. COVID-19 has brought these inequalities to the forefront and exposed the fragility of the gains we have made. The resilience and experience of the HIV response in addressing inequalities that disproportionately affect the key populations and priority populations is critical to the once-in-a-generation opportunity to ‘build back better’ from COVID-19.” (Source: Global AIDS Strategy 2021-2026)

There is hope that with global collaboration, 2021 can be a turning point in the history of ending AIDS.

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