People from all walks of life across the world partake in the events every year to bring the issue of HIV/AIDS to the attention of world leaders and decision makers, so that it is prioritized in the global health agenda.
. The major objective of World AIDS Day is to show support to those living with AIDS and commemorate those who have perished due to the killer disease.
‘World AIDS Day is celebrated annually on 1st December. It aims to raise global awareness about the dangers of AIDS. This year’s theme highlights the vital need for global solidarity and shared responsibility to overcome the AIDS pandemic.’
The Day also recognizes the vital need for global solidarity and shared responsibility for fighting this scourge at the local, regional, and global levels. Another objective is to root-out stigmatization, ostracization, and discrimination against AIDS patients, which is still rampant and is a social evil in many parts of the globe. A major long-term goal is to end the pandemic once and for all, through the development of effective AIDS vaccines.
The 2020 World AIDS Day Theme
The 2020 theme for World AIDS Day that has been declared by UNAIDS is “Global Solidarity, Shared Responsibility”, which highlights the importance of worldwide solidarity, especially during these trying times of COVID-19.
The pandemic has clearly shown how health is intertwined with other crucial issues, such as human rights, gender equality, education, livelihoods, social security, and economic stability.
Thus, there is a need for shared responsibility – at the individual, national and international levels. This will go a long way towards effectively tackling the AIDS pandemic, which is also impacted by societal, economic, gender inequality and other factors.
AIDS: Facts & Figures
- 38 million people worldwide are living with HIV/AIDS
- 33 million people have died so far from the AIDS pandemic
- Two-thirds of all people living with HIV/AIDS (25.7 million) live in the WHO African Region
- 25.4 million people were accessing antiretroviral therapy (ART) in 2019
- 68 percent of adults and 53 percent of children living with HIV/AIDS received lifelong ART in 2019
- 85 percent of pregnant and breastfeeding women living with HIV/AIDS received ART in 2019
- 15.3 million lives were saved due to ART between 2000-2019
- New HIV infections fell by 39 percent between 2000-2019
- AIDS-related deaths fell by 51 percent between 2000-2019
- 81 percent of people living with HIV/AIDS knew their status in 2019
- 1.7 million people became newly infected with HIV in 2019
- 690,000 people died from AIDS-related causes in 2019
- 59 percent of infected people achieved complete suppression of HIV in 2019
- 62 percent of new HIV infections in 2019 occurred in key population groups and their sexual partners in the age-group of 15-49 years
- 5,500 young women aged 15-24 years become infected with HIV every week
- 48 percent of all new HIV infections occur in women and girls
- Risk of acquiring HIV is 26-times higher in men who have sex with men (MSM)
- Risk of acquiring HIV is 29-times higher in injecting drug users (IDU)
- Risk of acquiring HIV is 30-times higher in female sex workers
- Risk of acquiring HIV is 13-times higher in transgenders
- HIV can be diagnosed through rapid diagnostic tests (RDTs) that provide results on the same day
- There is currently no cure for AIDS, but can be controlled effectively by antiretrovirals (ARVs)
AIDS and its Complications
The AIDS pandemic, which began in 1984, has had a devastating impact on human populations across the globe. Since its discovery, this killer disease has claimed more than 33 million lives worldwide. HIV progressively weakens the immune system so that it loses its capacity to ward off common infections, from which AIDS patients eventually succumb. This progressive weakening of the immune system is termed as immunodeficiency, which is marked by a rapid fall in the number of a special type of immune cells called CD4+ T-cells. This fall in the levels of CD4+ T-cells clinches the diagnosis of AIDS.
From the time of infection by the virus, it takes on average 10 years to develop full-blown AIDS. HIV can infect anyone, but high-risk groups are more likely to acquire the infection. The virus is spread through contact with infected body fluids, such as blood, semen, breast milk, and other bodily secretions. However, it is not transmitted by casual contact, such as shaking hands, hugging, sharing personal items, or food and water.
The complications that occur in AIDS patients are associated with the weakening of the immune system. As a result, AIDS patients usually die from co-infections, such as those caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis, cytomegalovirus, and certain types of fungi, including Pneumocystis carinii and Pneumocystis jirovecii. Besides these, AIDS patients can also develop some types of cancer, including non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and Kaposi’s sarcoma.
Progress of the AIDS Field Over the Years
In almost 40 years post-discovery of the killer disease, the field of HIV-AIDS has seen a dramatic progress in the areas of diagnostics, prevention and treatment. Rapid diagnostic tests (RDTs) are now available that detect HIV infections quickly and provide results the same day. Also, there are various preventive strategies that broadly fall into the areas of pre-exposure prophylaxis or PrEP (prevention of disease onset before exposure to the virus) and post-exposure prophylaxis or PEP (prevention of disease progression after exposure to the virus). Moreover, the availability of effective antiretrovirals (ARVs) that specifically target and kill HIV have enabled people to live longer, healthier, and more meaningful lives.
Impact of COVID-19 on AIDS
The COVID-19 pandemic is having an adverse effect on the AIDS pandemic, like so many other diseases. It is disrupting access to HIV diagnostics, prevention, treatment, and other healthcare services provided to AIDS patients. This disruption is occurring worldwide, but is much more pronounced in countries having a fragile health system. Without access to essential life-saving health services, there could be a resurgence of AIDS in the foreseeable future, accompanied by huge numbers of AIDS-related deaths.
However, collective efforts are ongoing to address these issues and overcome the challenges. Importantly, the COVID-19 pandemic can be considered as a wake-up call to do things differently, collectively, and in a better way. In this regard, extinguishing the AIDS pandemic will depend, to a large extent, on how the world responds to the COVID-19 pandemic.
World AIDS Day Celebrations in the Time of COVID-19
World AIDS Day is celebrated every year with much fanfare and great jubilation. Numerous events and activities are organized across the world. However, this year, much of the celebrations are likely to take place virtually, given the devastation being caused by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. However, the spirit of these celebrations will not be dampened in any way, as the major objectives of raising awareness about AIDS and showing solidarity for people living with the disease, will still take place.
Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Could Help End the AIDS Pandemic
The SDGs have been framed in such a way, so as to ensure that no one is left behind in the fight against AIDS. There are 17 SDGs, out of which 10 have a direct bearing on the AIDS pandemic. These 10 SDGs are likely to go a long way towards ending the AIDS pandemic. A few of these SDGs are listed below:
- SDG 1: End poverty
- SDG 2: End hunger
- SDG 3: Ensure healthy lives
- SDG 4: Ensure quality education
- SDG 5: Achieve gender equality
- SDG 10: Reduce inequality
Health Tips for Preventing HIV Transmission
Some tips for preventing transmission of HIV are given below:
- Increasing awareness and education about the dangers of AIDS
- Promoting the use of male and female condoms
- Stopping stigma and discrimination against AIDS patients
- Highlighting the importance of screening blood for HIV prior to transfusion
- Stressing on safe injection practices
- Avoiding needlestick injuries during injection
- Reducing harm to patients from unsterile medical equipment
World AIDS Day reminds us that the battle against AIDS is not yet over and there’s still an urgent need to generate awareness, raise funds, reduce stigma, and boost healthcare services. Overcoming the challenges will pave the way towards eventually ending the AIDS pandemic. So, on World AIDS Day, let’s all unite to fight AIDS together!
- World AIDS Day 2020: Global Solidarity, Resilient Services – World Health Organization (WHO) – (https://www.who.int/campaigns/world-aids-day/2020)
- Global HIV and AIDS Statistics: 2020 Factsheet – UNAIDS – (https://www.unaids.org/en/resources/fact-sheet)
- HIV/AIDS Factsheet – World Health Organization (WHO) – (https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/hiv-aids)
- AIDS and the Sustainable Development Goals – UNAIDS – (https://www.unaids.org/en/AIDS_SDGs)