The global health community is no stranger to intractable issues or creative ways to confront them, and World AIDS Day—observed each Dec.1—plays a valuable role in catalyzing conversations about ending “one of the most destructive pandemics in history.”

This year’s theme is “Increasing Impact Through Transparency, Accountability, and Partnerships,” Ambassador Deborah L. Birx, U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator & U.S. Special Representative for Global Health Diplomacy at the U.S. Department of State revealed in a Nov. 1 blog post on HIV.gov.

Started in 1988, World AIDS Day offers “a time to honor those who have lost their lives to AIDS, communicate our ongoing commitment to assist those who are living with or at risk for HIV, and celebrate the caregivers, families, friends, and communities that support them,” Birx said.

Indeed, the event is simultaneously retrospective and prospective. While innovative treatments and programs—including antiretroviral therapy, condom distributions and mother-to-child transmission (MTCT) reduction campaigns—have, in many ways, transformed HIV since it was discovered in 1984, there is still much to do.

According to a press release from Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of UNAIDS and Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations, rates of infection have increased by 60% in eastern Europe and central Asia, despite decreases in incidence elsewhere in the world. The WHO’s African Region also continues to be disproportionately affected.

Still, Birx wrote that the global health community has reached “an unprecedented moment,” at which a permanent cure or vaccine may be in sight. This is exciting news for global health organizations, as eliminating AIDS by 2030 is one of the targets of Sustainable Development Goal 3, to “ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.” Unfortunately, Sidibé argued this is impossible unless parity, mutual respect and sufficient standards are achieved in healthcare globally.

Evidently, organizers hope World AIDS Day 2017 will emphasize the universal “right to health” and how it can be championed to help people living with HIV.

“Too many people—especially those who are the most marginalized and most affected by HIV—still face challenges in accessing the health and social services they urgently need,” Sidibé said. “We all must continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with the people being left behind and demand that no one is denied their human rights.”

HIV.gov offers several ideas on how to participate in World AIDS Day, from getting tested for the virus to advertising the event on your website. Duke’s Mary Lou Williams Center for Black Culture will also host a commemoratory event on Dec. 1 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.

Want to learn more about this important issue? Follow the conversation on social media via the hashtag #WAD2017.

Photo courtesy HIV.gov

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