December 1 is World AIDS Day, a day set aside worldwide for prayer, action, reflection, remembrance, awareness and advocacy about the AIDS pandemic, 33 million people infected worldwide. The U.S. Center for Disease Control estimates that a new person is infected with the disease every nine and a half minutes.
AIDS, Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome, is a stage that HIV, Human Immunodeficiency Virus, can reach if all efforts to manage HIV fail to control its progress. HIV attacks your immune system, specifically the T-cells, also referred to as CD4 cells, the cells most important for your body's battles against illness. These are the cells that activate the immune system to the presence of intruders like bacteria and viruses.
The theme for this year's AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero," working toward zero new infections, zero discrimination in treatment, zero AIDS related deaths. UNAIDS, a joint United Nations program on HIV/AIDS, has released a report that HIV infections are decreasing and more people have access to life-prolonging drugs. There are 33.3 million people living with HIV/AIDS in the world, 2.5 million of them are children. New HIV infections in 2010 were 2.7 million people, down 21% since 1997. Worldwide, 6.6 million people have access to life-prolonging anti-retroviral drugs, an increase of 1.35 million since 2009. Progress is being made.
The ELCA's stance on AIDS is strongly supportive: of caring for those infected, of prevention through education and of support for families. The ELCA Church Council approved a strategy addressing HIV and AIDS in March 2009. The 2009 Churchwide Assembly approved a three-year fundraising proposal supporting that strategy. Presiding Bishop Hanson welcomed the action by President Obama that removed the barrier to entrance to the U.S. for those who are HIV-positive. Bishop Hanson said at the time that ending policies that discriminate and confronting attitudes that stigmatize people was essential to inclusion in society and religious communities.
The ELCIC has had a strong pastoral stance on care for those battling HIV/AIDS, their families and communities, including its 1998 Public Statement Of Pastoral Concern For Those Living With HIV/AIDS, which says, in part, "the ELCIC will never be an expert in the medical and social aspects of this pandemic. It can lend its voice to insure the moral and spiritual impact that accompanies HIV/AIDS is addressed. To this end, the prayers of the community, the proclamation in our preaching, the public witness for justice and our service with others in our community are important places to begin."
This day is set aside for clarion calls, for renewing the efforts to raise awareness of this disease, for reminding everyone of the ease with which one can contract this disease, and of the ease with which simple precautions could prevent such an infection.
A veritable cornucopia of information is available from governments, health organizations, and advocacy groups in Canada and United States, as well as elsewhere in the world. Learn what HIV/AIDS is all about, talk to particularly young people of your acquaintance to encourage them to be safe, fight discrimination against those with HIV/AIDS so that no stigma is attached to seeking testing, being diagnosed and then being treated for this disease.
In every way you can think of, help us, one and all, get to zero.