World AIDS Day observed Dec. 1

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A commemorative World AIDS Day 2012 poster. – IMAGE: Courtesy

Advances in the scientific and medical communities along with expanded government health programs have leaders in the fight against HIV/AIDS making ambitious declarations for World AIDS Day, which is observed annually on Dec. 1.

This year’s World AIDS Day theme – and the theme at least through 2015 – is “Getting to zero: zero new HIV infections. Zero discrimination. Zero AIDS-related deaths.”

The World Health Organization established World AIDS Day in 1988 as an opportunity to spread awareness about the status of the pandemic and encourage progress in HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and care. The World AIDS Campaign’s Global Steering Committee is the leading international organization planning and implementing the observance, but most events are scheduled, coordinated and sponsored at the local grassroots level.

The many commemorative programs planned for Dec. 1 include:

• Concerts – the New Wave Singers are performing at a neighborhood benefit in Baltimore that promotes HIV/AIDS awareness, for example.

• Prayer vigils – St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Chicago, for example, is hosting a service in partnership with HIV/AIDS groups.

• Health fairs – Downtown Dallas’ program with nonprofits and businesses involves a healthy living expo.

• Dedications – the National AIDS Memorial Grove in San Francisco holds its 19th annual observance, which includes a reading of the names of those who have died of AIDS.

• Art programs – the Milwaukee Art Museum offers a lecture, “HIV in 2012: Hidden and Unfamiliar,” and displays a recent acquisition, artist Taryn Simon’s photograph, “Live HIV, HIV Research Laboratory, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts (see cover story).

World AIDS Day activists encourage event participation, but their campaigns also emphasize getting tested for HIV – which is crucial in the push to get to zero new infections. The Gay Men’s Health Crisis, at 30 years old GMHC was one of the first HIV/AIDS organizations established, is sponsoring a week of testing in New York City, which remains the epicenter of HIV/AIDS in the United States. The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene says more than 107,000 New Yorkers are living with HIV, but thousands more don't know they're infected. New York City’s AIDS case rate is almost three times the U.S. average and AIDS is the third leading cause of death for residents aged 35 to 54.

At the national level, on average, every 9 1/2 minutes someone becomes infected with HIV. More than 1.2 million people in the United States are living with HIV, but about one in five do not know their status.

“With approximately 20 percent of people living with HIV in the United States unaware of their status, we must do more to encourage everyone – not just those deemed to be ‘at risk’ for HIV – to be tested,” said Kali Lindsey of the National AIDS Minority Council.

Earlier in November, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force drafted a recommendation calling for HIV screening to become part of routine health checkups for people between the ages of 15 and 65. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also has recommended that HIV screening become as common as cholesterol testing.

“By making HIV screening a routine part of any health care visit, the draft USPSTF recommendation would eliminate the need for either the patient or clinician to recognize risk factors prior to testing and may serve to reduce the stigma associated with offering or requesting an HIV test,” Lindsey said.

Additionally, if the task force recommendation is adopted, HIV testing likely would become a no-charge preventive service covered by insurance plans, including Medicaid and Medicare.

At aids.gov, a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services site, there’s a search tool to find HIV testing sites, including free services.

For World AIDS Day, activists also are encouraging social media campaigns to color Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter red and adorn pages with red ribbons and to encourage Google to create a “doodle” for the day.

Mark the dates

World AIDS Day is observed on Dec. 1 each year.

Other HIV/AIDS Awareness days on the calendar include:

National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, Feb. 7; National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, March 10; National Native HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, March 20; HIV Vaccine Awareness Day, May 18; National Asian & Pacific Islander HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, May 19; Caribbean American HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, June 8; National HIV Testing Day, June 27; National HIV/AIDS and Aging Awareness Day, Sept. 18; National Gay Men’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, Sept. 27; National Latino AIDS Awareness Day, Oct. 15.

For more, go to aids.gov.