Today, December 1st, marks the 34th annual World AIDS Day, a commemoration of the more than 25 million people who have died from the AIDS virus. This international day of observance – the first devoted to an issue of health – helps us to better understand the HIV/AIDS viruses, transmission, and the status of the epidemic that ripples through our entire population, regardless of age, wealth, color, or religion.
This year will be the second year of a five-year theme, “Getting to zero: zero new HIV Infections. Zero discrimination. Zero AIDS related deaths,” initiated by the World Health Organization and the United Nations Program on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS).
Though crafted with hope, these goals remain lofty: in 2011 alone, 2.5 million people acquired the HIV virus, while 1.7 million died from AIDS. Nevertheless, progress has been made. According to UNAIDS, “Since 1999, the year in which it is thought that the epidemic peaked, globally, the number of new infections has fallen by 19%.”
With improved access to antiretroviral therapy in low and middle-income countries, this has contributed to a reduction in AIDS-related deaths of 19% globally between 2004 and 2009.
The cost of these medications has also dropped, and now hovers at a price of about US $137 annually per person. While this price tag continues to prevent many from obtaining this regimen, it does represent the latest step in a continually lowering price. Despite the “global” nature of HIV/AIDS, we still need to acknowledge these diseases exist in our own communities, educate ourselves, and become familiar with where we can get tested.
HIV/AIDS In Pennsylvania
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, the state has experienced a decline in new AIDS infections since the early 1990’s. The number of new HIV infections in Pennsylvania has remained below 1,000 for the past two to three years, down from a peak of nearly 1,200 in 2006. The Health Department also reports that the majority of new HIV infections are clustered in Allegheny and Philadelphia counties. A more positive trend is the parallel decline in the exposure of a fetus to the virus during birth and contraction of pediatric HIV.
The Drexel School of Public Health tells us that in Philadelphia, heterosexual individuals face the greatest risk of contracting HIV, particularly African-American men. The school reports that by 2017 there will be nearly 16,000 people living with AIDS in Philadelphia, and the spread of the infection results primarily from unsafe heterosexual intercourse. In this instance, promoting safe sex, improving access to HIV testing and condoms will supplement existing public health efforts to minimize the HIV/AIDS infections in Philadelphia.
In 2010, the Obama administration announced a new national HIV/AIDS strategy, which focuses on two goals: reducing the number of new infections annually in the United States and reducing the frequency of discrimination against individuals living with HIV/AIDS. Currently, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects against discrimination in matters of housing, employment, and healthcare. Yet, rather than relying on laws to eliminate all instances of discrimination, the best way to prevent this is to educate ourselves about HIV/AIDS and become advocates for victims of discrimination.
Although no vaccine exists to inoculate individuals from HIV, research is underway to actualize such a vision. Until there is such a vaccine, it is vital that we take the time today and beyond to remember those we’ve lost to AIDS, extol the medical breakthroughs in treating and preventing HIV/AIDS, and empower one another to remain sexually healthy.
Agencies and organizations in Philadelphia:
- Philadelphia FIGHT, a “comprehensive AIDS service organization” that provides primary care along with education programs, advocacy and research.
- The Mazzoni Center, located in Center City, is Philadelphia’s only health care service provider that focuses its mission on the health and well being of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals.
- Planned Parenthood’s health centers across Pennsylvania, including 13 health centers in Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, and Philadelphia provide HIV testing and counseling via walk-in or scheduled appointments. The organization offers rapid-HIV testing at select centers.
- The Philadelphia Aids Consortium (TPAC), another broad-based outreach organization, has been working since 1989 at the community level to combat HIV/AIDS infections.
- Philly residents can show support for World AIDS Day and its efforts by patronizing Philly AIDS Thrift. The dual store and non-profit donates its proceeds to the AIDS Fund Philly, which organizes the annual AIDS Walk Philly and also donates money to 30 HIV/AIDS service organizations in the Philadelphia region.
- For more information about HIV/AIDS testing, education, and outreach in Philadelphia, check out the Philadelphia Health Department’s Aids Activities Coordinating Office.
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