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World AIDS Day 2016: Past Ten Years Reveal a Bright Future

World AIDS Day 2016: Past Ten Years Reveal a Bright Future
Smiles and cameras alike flashed in Barbados’ capital city during the December 1 anniversary of World AIDS Day. Prince Harry and Rihanna, both in the country for the 50th anniversary of its independence, took part in quick HIV tests while cameras rolled, in an effort to de-stigmatize the idea of getting screened and emphasize its importance.

This year marks the 35th anniversary of the first published reports of the AIDS virus, a disease that has since averaged a million deaths a year worldwide. Once considered a death sentence, the diagnosis of the virus is now more manageable than ever.

This year, World AIDS Day 2016 sports the theme “Hands Up for #HIVPREVENTION,” addressing the many different stages of life for those with the virus, particularly demographics who have historically not been the focal point of HIV and AIDS research.

The World Health Organization’s  2015 review, published on December 1, bears encouraging news for the control of the virus, boasting the lowest initial infection rate since 1991, and the fewest deaths attributed to the disease in 20 years.

On World AIDS Day 2016, there are many reasons to celebrate, as revealed by the data collected. Studies showed that due to the spread of antiretroviral therapy, the last ten years saw a decrease of more than 45 percent in deaths associated with HIV.

There are currently  36.7 million people living with HIV worldwide, and their disease cultivates unique challenges for researchers due to its ability to mutate between individuals. Not to be dissuaded, researchers have only gone on to create unique solutions to these problems, with treatments ranging from aggressive HIV testing to vaginal rings that help prevent the spread of the virus.

The future looks bright as well, with the National Institutes of Health revealing that it is currently exploring a treatment that could neutralize up to 98 percent of HIV variants, a project that could take up to ten years to complete. While that may seem like a long time, that’s ten more years of ongoing effective treatment and use of life-saving prophylactics.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, a long-time champion for the eradication of the disease, spoke out on World AIDS Day 2016 to address the need to alleviate the stigma associated with HIV and AIDS, and the need to normalize the practice of rigorous testing and treatment. “Tolerance and awareness stop AIDS. Speaking out protects life.”

The goal remains to treat 30 million people by 2030, and while that may have once seemed insurmountable, the past ten years has proven it possible. The truth is, people with HIV are living longer, healthier lives than ever, and that is more than enough reason to celebrate.

Emily Marshall

Photo: Flickr