Don’t ignore World AIDS Day

Maybe it's because it fell on a Sunday, but World AIDS Day came and went this year with little fanfare — underscoring just how global attention for the epidemic has flagged. And not at a good time: The youth bulge across Africa and other parts of the developing world mean that more efforts are needed to prevent transmission of the disease or risk seeing a mass of new patients that overwhelms the existing infrastructure for treatment.

That worry kind of undercut the few signs of this weekend of just how far the world has come:

  • South Africa, the country with by far the highest number of HIV patients, rolled out a new, cutting-edge HIV treatment that has fewer side effects than previous formulations.
  • UNAIDS used the annual event, which they held this year in Kenya, to highlight the importance of integrating communities into the response. In places where potentially marginalized groups, including men who have sex with men and sex workers, are included in creating programs, there has generally been good results in preventing the spread of the disease and getting patients on treatment.

These are developments that speak to the technological advances that make it possible for people to live full, productive lives and also the better understanding of how to ensure that the people who most need to are getting tested and treated.

But both developments also exposed key gaps: In South Africa, nearly 40 percent of the country's HIV patients are not on treatment. Globally, only 24.5 million of the estimated 37.9 million people living with HIV are on medication. Many of the people who need services are living in communities that continue to be marginalized by officials.

World AIDS Day would have been a good opportunity to remind people how much more still needs to be done.