On December 1, 2007 the world will observe the nineteenth World AIDS Day.
Governments, non-profit organizations, international organizations and communities worldwide take this day to raise a unified voice in their compassion and remembrance for those who have died or who are suffering from the disease.
It is also a time to educate people about the realities of living with HIV/AIDS and to mobilize populations to act to protect themselves from this highly preventable virus.
Since the HIV/AIDS virus was identified in the early 1980’s over 25 million people have died from the epidemic.
Unfortunately, it is not a disease of the past.
The World Health Organization reported last year that 4.3 million people were diagnosed with new HIV infections.
Worse yet, the spread of HIV is accelerating.
This fact has great relevance to students’ comfortable lives in Fort Collins. Worldwide 18- to 24-year-olds are the fastest growing age group for new infections and one in 500 college students nationwide are HIV positive.
It is easy to think of HIV/AIDS as just impacting “those people,” but in reality it can and does affect everyone.
Sub-Saharan Africa still has the highest HIV infection rates in the world, with estimated 24 million people living with HIV/AIDS, but the disease knows no boundaries.
The United States has the Eighth highest percentage of HIV infections in the world. While it is true that in the U.S. antiretroviral drugs prolong the life of people infected with HIV/AIDS, there still is no cure.
If you are HIV positive you will die of AIDS or AIDS-related illnesses at some point.
Stigma and discrimination are two of the biggest barriers to fighting this epidemic.
Many of the behaviors associated with the transmission of HIV/AIDS are not considered socially acceptable in many parts of the world, but we must overcome our reluctance to engage in this fight for survival.
We must also look at our own behaviors and acknowledge those which put us at risk.
This year the theme for World AIDS Day is Leadership.
According to the World AIDS Campaign, all of the significant advances in fighting the disease have been achieved when there is a strong commitment from the leadership in a country.
Leadership doesn’t just come from people in elected offices. It can be found in those who inspire individuals to meet a goal, those who influence and lift people’s vision to a higher level, those who challenge us to perform at a higher standard and those who help us take our personal gifts beyond our perceived limitations.
Stopping the spread of HIV/AIDS will require all of us to step up and be leaders.
There have been some remarkable breakthroughs, but there is still a long way to go. To fight this disease we all need to act.
You can be a leader by raising awareness about the AIDS epidemic, supporting education and interventions, volunteering at a local agency such as Northern Colorado AIDS Project (NCAP), educating yourself and your friends about the disease and fighting against prejudice and discrimination.
Protect yourself and your partner, practice safe sex, get tested and know your status, talk to your friends and family about HIV/AIDS. We must be willing to take on the fight ourselves.
On Friday, Nov. 30, a Candlelight Vigil for AIDS victims will be held in the Art Lounge in the Lory Student Center on the CSU campus. Please join us to remember all those who have been lost to this disease.
Also on Friday, the Northern Colorado AIDS Project is sponsoring a free HIV testing day in the Wellness Zone in the Lory Student Center. Testing is anonymous, confidential, and free to all CSU students.
Find your voice, become a leader, and help the world fight HIV/AIDS.
Shauna Deluca is coordinator for the Office of International Programs as CSU. The Office of International Programs’ column appears occasionally in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.