Two million people still die annually from HIV, a sobering thought as another World AIDS Day is observed. Events will be held around the globe Wednesday in the campaign to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS, and remember the millions who have died from the disease. The observances offer an opportunity to mark gains in the battle to conquer the epidemic by preventing its spread and to push for renewed efforts to find a cure.
The United Nations estimates that 2.6 million people were newly infected with AIDS in 2009. That figure is down 20 percent from the previous decade. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 580,000 Americans have died of AIDS since it was first identified in the United States in 1981. An additional 1.1 million have been infected and are living with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. The disease has disproportionately affected blacks, men who have sex with men, and young people.
Recent medical breakthroughs may provide the strongest weapon against the disease. A study of healthy gay men who took an anti-AIDS pill daily yielded encouraging results — they were 44 percent less likely to get infected with HIV. But more funding is needed to continue research projects that could one day save lives. There must also be more aggressive outreach such as the campaign by black clergy in Philadelphia to encourage testing to prevent those already infected from unknowingly spreading the disease.
In New Jersey, the Legislature should pass a bill that would allow for the sale of needles in pharmacies without a prescription. More than 40 percent of all HIV/AIDS cases in the state have been attributed to the sharing of contaminated needles. New Jersey and Delaware are the only states with a complete ban on over-the-counter sale of syringes in pharmacies, according to the Drug Policy Alliance.
The sales would supplement the state’s successful needle-exchange programs in five cities, including Camden, that have distributed needles to more than 6,000 people in the past three years. Those at risk for HIV/AIDS or Hepatitis C, who may be less likely to visit a clinic to get clean needles, could take a more proactive step to protect themselves.
On this World AIDS Day, there is renewed reason to hope for a cure. Then, Dec. 1 could be just another day on the calendar.