Worldwide Observances Mark Annual AIDS Day

Today marks the 18th annual World AIDS Day and another day when 6,000 children will be orphaned through the loss of a parent from HIV/AIDS.
( [email protected] ) Dec 02, 2005 02:55 PM EST

Today marks the 18th annual World AIDS Day and another day when 6,000 children will be orphaned through the loss of a parent from HIV/AIDS.

Communities worldwide are getting involved to take action on the still prevalent epidemic in observance of the international day. The World AIDS Campaign declared "accountability" as this year's theme as it recognized the landmark U.N. Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS that was adopted five years ago.

"This accountability refers to promises made not only in the Declaration but in other commitments made since then," said a statement on the worlds aids campaign website.

The five-year-old declaration includes pledges of education on AIDS prevention; treatment for those infected; and searching for a vaccine and cure.

Despite recent, improved access to antiretroviral treatment and care in many regions of the world, the AIDS epidemic claimed 3.1 million lives in 2005, according to a December 2005 report ¡V AIDS epidemic update ¡V released by UNAIDS and the World Health Organization. People living with HIV reached its highest level with an estimated 40.3 million people. Nearly 5 million people were newly infected this year.

"We need to stretch awareness in greater and greater numbers," said Steve Haas, vice president of church relations at World Vision.

Educational campaigns and rallies throughout Asia saw large numbers of participation in joining the combat against the disease. China began educating millions of migrant workers Thursday with a newly launched campaign; thousands marched in anti-AIDS rallies in India, where it has the most people living with HIV; and nearly 10,000 students at 300 high schools in Seoul, South Korea were given HIV lessons.

While AIDS awareness is spreading across the globe, activists and outreach workers are facing impediments in their work of prevention and care.

"AIDS activists and outreach workers are often harassed or even jailed by their governments for simply standing up and speaking out about AIDS, and the international donor community is doing too little to protect them," said Joe Amon, director of the HIV/AIDS Program at Human Rights Watch, according to a released statement.

"The few success stories we have in the global fight against AIDS are the result of the heroic efforts of courageous individuals mobilizing impoverished, marginalized, and stigmatized populations to action," he said.

Citing cases of harassment and even imprisonment in such countries as China, Uganda and the Philippines, Amon expressed concern saying, "Bitter experience has shown that repressing civil society only fuels AIDS epidemics. Where repression rules the day, AIDS wins."

U.S. Ambassador Michael Marine in Vietnam stressed the need to make World AIDS Day an everyday affair.

"It's certainly not sufficient to focus on HIV/AIDS one day a year," he said, according to The Associated Press. "It's something that should be in the forefront of people's minds all the time."