The 2013 theme for World AIDS Day is “Shared Responsibility: Strengthening Results for an AIDS-Free Generation.”
The battle against Aids is being won, with deaths down, record numbers of people being treated, and new cases among children down by more than half.
But ongoing discrimination against sufferers is the biggest obstacle to winning the war, according to the head of the United Nations Joint Programme on HIV/Aids (UNAIDS).
Speaking to The Independent on Sunday on the eve of World Aids Day, UNAIDS executive director Michel Sidibé said: “We are winning against this epidemic, we are seeing a decline in new infections, an increase in people treated… we have broken the conspiracy of silence.”
For the first time, he said, authorities can see “an end to an epidemic that has wrought such staggering devastation around the world”.
He added: “People living with HIV can live long and healthy lives, can now protect their partners from becoming infected, and can keep their children free from HIV.”
But Mr Sidibé also warned: “We have not been able to change completely the perception of people against the most-at-risk populations. The stigma, discrimination and criminalisation of those people – sex workers, people who inject drugs, men who have sex with men – all those groups are mainly at risk of continuing to be completely forgotten.”
There are more than 70 countries with “homophobic laws” – something which demonstrates “we still have a long way to go”.
Discrimination remains a major obstacle in many parts of the world. One in seven people living with HIV has been denied access to healthcare and more than one in 10 has been refused employment. And while the global picture is good, austerity-stricken Europe is at risk of repeated outbreaks of HIV, warned the World Health Organization last night.
In a bid to end the persecution of people with HIV/Aids, UNAIDS is launching a “zero discrimination” campaign, backed by Nobel Peace Prize Winner Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, to mark World Aids Day.
Speaking at today’s launch of the campaign to launch a Zero Discrimination Day on 1 March 2014, she said: “We can all make a difference by reaching out and letting people lead a life of dignity, irrespective of who they are.”
In sub-Saharan countries the number of new cases of HIV was 40 per cent less last year than in 2001 – almost a million fewer cases. But with some 1.6 million people infected last year, the continent’s struggle with Aids and HIV continues. In Swaziland, one in four adults (26 per cent) is HIV positive. Across the continent there were 1.2 million Aids-related deaths last year. The majority of those infected with HIV were sex workers and gay men. In Ivory Coast half of “men who sleep with men” are HIV positive. By contrast, in developed Middle East and North Africa, numbers acquiring HIV rose by more than 50 per cent, but still remained at just 32,000 people in 2012.
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