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12/1/05

World AIDS Day

Today is World AIDS Day, and organizers are marking the event by encouraging governments and the international community to meet their commitments in fighting the disease.

"It has now been five years since the landmark UN Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS was adopted unanimously by UN Member States," the World AIDS Campaign says in a statement on its Web site.

To herald the five-year anniversary of that declaration, "the theme of the World AIDS Campaign is accountability," the statement adds. "This accountability refers to promises made not only in the Declaration but in other commitments made since then."

Pledges made in the declaration included education on AIDS prevention; treatment for those infected; searching for a vaccine and cure; and treatment for those infected.

To keep the focus on that commitment, the World AIDS Campaign will highlight the theme of "Stop AIDS. Keep the Promise." The theme will be used for the next five years.

President Bush will offer remarks on World AIDS Day in an address from the White House.

The Human Rights Campaign is also scheduled to release a "report card" on the response by the administration and Congress on the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services notes that since 1981, when AIDS was first identified in the United States, more than 20 million people worldwide have died of the disease. Today, more than 40 million people worldwide are estimated to be living with HIV or AIDS.

In the United States alone, an estimated 1 million to 1.2 million Americans are now living with HIV, and 35,000 to 40,000 new infections are occurring every year.

Out of the shadows

Nations across the globe are marking World AIDS Day.

Dozens of HIV-infected women stepped out of the shadows in eastern India to acknowledge that they are living with the disease and should not be shunned. China, in its marking of World Aids Day, began an educational campaign targeting millions of migrant workers Thursday.

In Jakarta, the head of UNAIDS -- the joint United Nations program on HIV/AIDS -- criticized Indonesia's leaders for not taking a more active role in combating the disease, and thousands marched in anti-AIDS rallies in India's plagued northeast, including in Golaghat, a town in the eastern state of Assam, where HIV-infected women spoke publicly.

"I marched through the town with more than 70 HIV-positive women like me ... I'm happy many women have paid heed to our call and have openly admitted to their HIV-positive status," said Jahnabi Goswami, 28. "Men with the disease need to follow suit."

An estimated 5.1 million people are living with HIV in India -- the most in any single country except South Africa. India's sparsely populated northeast, where heroin traffickers cross from Myanmar, is considered a flashpoint because of its high rate of infections among intravenous drug users.

Australia on Thursday announced it will spend $7.4 million over five years to help India fight the virus in the northeast region.

China also focused attention on the disease by launching a campaign aimed at some 120 million migrant workers, with Chinese Central Television showing condoms being passed out to workers at a Beijing construction site.

"Because of this publicity, I really feel I learned something about the harm of AIDS and I will share what I learned with my co-workers, friends and relatives," said Li Hongjian, a young worker in a hard hat and work clothes with a large red ribbon pinned to his chest.

China's government estimates about 840,000 people could be infected with HIV and 80,000 others are likely to be living with full-blown AIDS. However, only about 167,000 are registered as being infected.

UNAIDS has warned up to 10 million could be infected in China by 2010 without more aggressive prevention.

The official China Daily newspaper said injecting drug users now account for the bulk of infections, followed by unclean blood selling practices and unsafe sex.

In Jakarta, UNAIDS head Peter Piot on Wednesday called Indonesia's response to the disease "inadequate" and said it was vital that President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono step up and take charge of the campaign.

An estimated 150,000 to 250,000 people are infected in the sprawling archipelago, but the virus is spreading quickly among injecting drug users, as well as sex workers and their clients, he said.

Countries across Asia said more focus must be placed on educating young people if the world has any chance of getting a grip on the disease. An estimated 8.3 million people are living with HIV in Asia, with 1.1 million newly infected last year, UNAIDS said in a recent report.

"Twenty-five years into the pandemic, this disease is becoming more visible in Pakistan yet continues to have an invisible face, a missing face, a young person's face. This needs to change," UNICEF representative Omar Abdi said in a statement Wednesday.

While its nationwide infection rate remains low, Pakistan contains all the ingredients for a potential HIV explosion, including poverty, illiteracy, a sex industry and injecting drug users, said Samia Hashim, UNAIDS senior national program officer in the country.

'Education has to start very young'

In Vietnam, U.S. Ambassador Michael Marine said Wednesday more emphasis must be placed on making sure the message reaches children to keep the disease from spreading into the general population.

"I think that education has to start very young," he said.

So far, the disease in Vietnam remains largely concentrated in high-risk groups, such as injecting drug users and sex workers, but health workers fear the virus will eventually spread to the general population and result in a major epidemic.

"It's certainly not sufficient to focus on HIV/AIDS one day a year," Marine said. "It's something that should be in the forefront of people's minds all the time."

Inform students that December 1 is World AIDS Day. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services notes that since 1981, when AIDS was first identified in the U.S., more than 20 million people worldwide have died from the disease. Today, more than 40 million people worldwide are estimated to be living with HIV or AIDS. In the United States alone, an estimated 1,039,000 to 1,185,000 Americans are now living with HIV, and 35,000 to 40,000 new infections are occurring every year.

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