World AIDS Day, celebrated this December 1 with the theme "Universal Access and Human Rights," highlights both the progress and the challenges remaining in the fight against HIV/AIDS. While there are significant success stories, reversing the epidemic will still require a lot of effort.
A number of countries in Latin America and the Caribbean have made meaningful progress against HIV/AIDS, including advances in the elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV, congenital syphilis and elimination of HIV-related stigma. However, important challenges remain.
Nevertheless, recent statistics provide a rather complex picture. While HIV infections at the global level have decreased by 17 percent over the past eight years, according to the newly-released 2009 AIDS Epidemic Update, in the Americas, the picture is mixed. HIV incidence has reached a plateau in the Caribbean, while in Latin America, the estimated annual number of new cases rose from 150,000 in 2001 to 170,000 in 2008.
Among the major challenges to the region’s response are issues related to sex work and HIV, sex between men who have sex with men, HIV in people using drugs, access to antiretroviral therapy, and drug resistance.
Dr. Gottfried Hirnschall, Senior Advisor for the HIV/STI Project at the Pan American Health Organization, says that PAHO is "always looking for new ways to raise awareness about the HIV epidemic, to share information about the impact and response in our region, and to foster solidarity with those who have been affected."
Michel Sidibé, Executive Director of UNAIDS, says that "stigma and discrimination continue to undermine efforts to turn back the epidemic." He adds that "AIDS provides a powerful mechanism for creating integrated health, human rights and development programs. We must take AIDS out of isolation and create a broad social movement that will accelerate progress toward the Millennium Development Goals."
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged countries to "remove punitive laws, policies and practices that hamper the AIDS response, including travel restrictions against people living with HIV. Successful AIDS responses do not punish people; they protect them."
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