1 December is World AIDS Day. I remember the first time I marked World AIDS Day 15 years ago while I was working at a newspaper in Swaziland, the country which has long had the world’s highest HIV prevalence (proportion of the population who are infected with HIV). It was a day where we could remember the people we had lost to AIDS in the past year, colleagues, friends and family members. It was a moment to raise awareness about the importance of defeating the stigma too many people living with HIV felt in their daily lives, and an opportunity to remind people again and again about the importance of preventing HIV infection.
15 years later and the number of new HIV infections falling year on year, more people are on treatment than ever before and the number of AIDS related deaths is at an all-time low. It feels as though the world has slowly turned a corner. Something that felt unimaginable 15 years ago feels like it could finally be in reach. The end of AIDS. So why does World AIDS Day still matter?
Although the figures are moving in the right direction, they aren’t moving nearly fast enough. Too many people are still being infected with HIV, and while rates are falling fast in some regions and for some groups, they are rising in others like eastern Europe and central Asia and among high risk groups like sex workers and men who have sex with men.
We’ll never tackle HIV with business as usual. As we turn the corner and start to see statistics improving, it is essential that we don’t forget the lives which continue to be both affected and ended by HIV. We must continue to support services to reach all those who need them whoever they are and wherever they are. We must also continue to develop the evidence that supports a range of more effective HIV prevention tools based on the needs of different populations, including the development of an effective vaccine, which won’t just control the HIV epidemic but help end it for good.
I hope that in 15 years time I don’t need to mark World AIDS Day and think about all of the work that still needs to be done to end the epidemic, but instead use it as an opportunity to remember the friends I lost and feel positive about the future knowing that my children and the children of my friends around the world will never lose anyone they know to AIDS.