Since 1988, when the United Nations declared December 1 as the first World AIDS Day, people worldwide have paused each year to unite in the fight against HIV, show their support for people living with the virus, and commemorate those who have lost their lives to AIDS.
A quarter-century since the first World AIDS Day, amazing progress has been made, but enormous challenges remain.
AIDS-related causes have killed 36 million people and continue to kill more than 1.5 million each year, including more than 250,000 children. Some 35 million people live with HIV today. While the number of new HIV infections is slowly declining, there were 2.3 million more in the last year alone. In sub-Saharan Africa, more young people report that they’re using condoms, but overall HIV/AIDS knowledge levels remain low. Even in the well-connected and aware United States, more than one million people live with HIV, one in five of them without knowing it.
Seven million people who need HIV drugs cannot get them, including nearly three out of four children with HIV. Many children have lost one or both parents to this epidemic, putting their access to education and healthcare at risk.
The global AIDS community stands behind the ambitious UNAIDS goal of “three zeros by 2015″: zero new HIV infections, zero AIDS-related deaths, and zero discrimination. We have our work cut out for us. Barriers of stigma, prejudice, healthcare access, and economic and social inequality remain very high.
Those living with HIV need attention, quality healthcare, and social support—and we need to do more to prevent people from getting infected in the first place. Many public- and private-sector scientific, health, and humanitarian organizations are working to expand the current HIV “toolbox,” which includes such biomedical, structural, and behavioral interventions as antiretroviral treatment, community-based health education, condoms, voluntary medical male circumcision, and protocols to prevent mother-to-child transmission.
But these tools remain out of reach or of limited effectiveness for many who need them. For example, in sub-Saharan Africa, home to more than 70 percent of the world’s cases of HIV, women and girls often remain less educated than, and socially and economically dependent on, men. They are often unable to insist that their partners use condoms, or to seek counseling and treatment in confidence. New tools that empower and enable women to learn about and take care of their own health are critical to changing this picture.
A preventive AIDS vaccine would be a powerful new tool. Modeling studies show that adding an AIDS vaccine with even limited efficacy to the HIV prevention arsenal could dramatically impact the infection trajectory. But finding and developing a vaccine against HIV/AIDS continues to pose one of the greatest scientific challenges of our time.
At the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI), we strive to ensure that an effective and accessible AIDS vaccine becomes a reality. A nonprofit public-private research and development partnership, IAVI collaborates with more than 50 academic, industry, and government organizations around the world to accelerate the development of AIDS vaccines, and to advocate for the HIV prevention field.
As IAVI president and chief executive officer Margie McGlynn said in our World AIDS Day statement:
“There has been tremendous success in treating millions with HIV over the past three decades, but a great deal of continued commitment, innovation, and persistence will be needed to realize the vision of a world without AIDS.”
Ensuring the development of a safe, effective AIDS vaccine for all is a mission each of us at IAVI takes personally. Please visit www.iavi.org to learn more.
Are you interested in joining the fight against HIV and AIDS? Search Idealist for almost 10,000 ways to get involved through a career, volunteer work, or an internship.