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World AIDS Day 2011: Getting to ZERO

Bangkok (Thailand), 1 December 2011
- Each year, on 1 December-World AIDS Day- people come together across the globe to raise awareness about the HIV epidemic, honor those who have lost their lives and inspire positive actions to address HIV.

This year, 30 years since AIDS was first reported, brings hope that we are finally in a position to end the HIV epidemic. New HIV infections are down more than 20 per cent since 1997 - and continue to decline in most parts of the world. New scientific evidence shows that antiretroviral therapy does more than treat HIV, it also prevents HIV.

The tide is shifting for at-risk populations thanks to access to HIV prevention services. Treatment has averted 2.5 million AIDS-related deaths since 1985, including 700,000 lives last year alone. Today, 6.6 million people now receive treatment -- nearly half of those who need it in low- and middle-income countries.

UNODC, a co-sponsor of UNAIDS, and the UN family have embraced a new global vision: zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths, as detailed in the UNAIDS Strategy for 2011-2015.  

Under the theme 'Getting to Zero', UNODC was involved in a number of World AIDS Day activities in Bangkok, coordinated by UNAIDS Regional Support Team and the Social Division of UN ESCAP, in collaboration with the UNAIDS Thailand Country Office. Gary Lewis, UNODC Regional Representative, was present at the symbolic ribbon cutting opening led by Thailand's Assistant Minister of Public Health, His Excellency Dr Wichai Tienthavorn, of the 'Art for AIDS | Asia Pacific in action' art exhibition in the Emporium Mall in central Bangkok.

Dignitaries toured the exhibition and met staff of the "Volunteer Kitchen" who were busy preparing donations of food and water to be distributed by the Thai Network of People Living with HIV (TNP+) to people living with HIV affected by the devastating flooding in Thailand of the past several weeks.

Noting the bold targets for 2015 adopted by United Nations General Assembly's High-Level Meeting on AIDS - to reduce the sexual transmission of HIV by half, cut HIV transmission among people who inject drugs by 50 per cent, provide treatment for 15 million people living with HIV, end stigma and discrimination, and close the AIDS funding gap - Mr. Lewis said: "To get to Zero, to end AIDS, we need to deliver even greater results. With strong political will, financial support and a firm human-rights based approach, we can achieve these targets."

Mr Lewis also participated in UNAIDS China photo campaign against employment-related discrimination due to HIV status. Despite HIV being a chronic disease, like any other chronic disease that can be treated, each year many people living with HIV are denied employment, or suffer from stigma and discrimination in the workplace due to perceived or actual HIV status. People who use drugs are even more likely to face difficulties in finding employment due to additional stigma associated with drug use.

"This has to change. Drug dependence is a chronically relapsing condition, just like diabetes or hypertension," said Mr. Lewis. "It is preventable and it can be treated. People with drug dependence need opportunities for meaningful engagement in their communities, including employment opportunities."

UNODC works to increase access to quality HIV prevention, treatment and care services for people who use drugs, as well as evidence based drug dependence treatment for those who need it.