While the entire state of Oklahoma recovers from the effects of the first official winter storm, in other parts of the world people will come together to commemorate 25 years of the HIV/AIDS pandemic by observing World AIDS Day today.
Initiated on Dec. 1 at the 1988 World Summit of Ministers of Health on Programmes for AIDS Prevention, World AIDS Day started as a day to share messages of hope, compassion and understanding about AIDS to the world. To date, it is the only international day that takes action against the dreadful disease.
From 1998 to 2004, World AIDS Day was organized by The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS, or UNAIDS, who chose a theme each year after discussion with other AIDS service organizations.
Then last year, UNAIDS relinquished responsibility for World AIDS Day to an independent organization known as The World AIDS Campaign (WAC).
The WAC chose the slogan "Stop AIDS: Keep the Promise" for their work, which is an appeal to governments, policy makers and regional health authorities to ensure that each of those entities meet the targets that have been set in the battle against HIV and AIDS. This campaign will run until 2010, with a related theme chosen for World AIDS Day each year.
The specific theme for 2006, Accountability, is designed to inspire citizens across the globe to hold their political leaders accountable for the promises they have made regarding HIV/AIDS.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is the virus that causes AIDS. This virus may be passed from one person to another when infected blood, semen or vaginal secretions come in contact with an uninfected person's broken skin or mucous membranes.
In addition, infected pregnant women can pass HIV to their baby during pregnancy or delivery, as well as through breast-feeding. People with HIV have what is called HIV infection. Some of these people will develop AIDS as a result of their HIV infection.
AIDS stands for Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome. The CDC offers the following definitions for all three terms:
1. Acquired - means that the disease is not hereditary but develops after birth from contact with a disease causing agent (in this case, HIV).
2. Immunodeficiency - means that the disease is characterized by a weakening of the immune system.
3. Syndrome - refers to a group of symptoms that collectively indicate or characterize a disease. In the case of AIDS this can include the development of certain infections and/or cancers, as well as a decrease in the number of certain cells in a person's immune system.
CDC statistics report that at the end of 2003, an estimated 1,039,000 to 1,185,000 persons in the United States were living with HIV/AIDS. It is estimated that approximately 40,000 people become infected with HIV each year.
In 2004, the largest estimated proportion of HIV/AIDS diagnoses were for men who have sex with men (MSM), followed by adults and adolescents infected through heterosexual contact.
African-Americans account for half of the estimated number of HIV/AIDS cases diagnosed in 35 areas with long-term, confidential name-based HIV reporting in 2004. Whites and Hispanics accounted for 30 percent and 18 percent of the new diagnoses, respectively.
Worldwide, HIV/AIDS continues to wreak havoc on impoverished nations that do not have access to quality healthcare. According to UNAIDS estimates, 39.5 million people are now living with HIV, including 2.3 million children; however, only 10 percent of them know that they are HIV-positive.
Aimed at changing the trajectory of the pandemic, President Bush has incorporated the U.S. President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (Emergency Plan/ PEFPAR). PEFPAR is the largest commitment ever by any nation for an international health initiative dedicated to a single disease.
Plans for this five-year, $15 billion, multifaceted approach to combating the disease in more than 120 countries around the world include working shoulder-to-shoulder with partners in host nations in support of the national strategy in each country.
The promise of these partnerships is to back up developing nations so that they can eventually sustain combative efforts long after the initial five years of the Emergency Plan.
By wearing a red ribbon, the international symbol of AIDS awareness since 1991, people can show their support for the fight against HIV/AIDS.
For more information about World AIDS Day, go to www.worldaidsday.org. Contact a local clinic or hospital for more information about HIV-testing.