WORLD AIDS DAY 2009 in Vienna

1 December 2009- On 1 December people around the world commemorated World AIDS Day, and several hundred colleagues, families, students and diplomats in the Vienna International Centre were no exception. The rotunda was filled with numerous information booths, to include the VIC Joint Medical Services, UN Cares and local NGO's of AIDSHILFE Wien and Buddyverein.

There were also quizzes with small awareness-building prizes, a video of some of the faces of HIV being displayed. Donations for ribbon and mouse-pad sales were just over EUR 4,100 this year, which will be donated to the NGO's. But for many visitors to the rotunda, the performance by members of the drama group at the Vienna International School (VIS) was the highlight. The students, covered with masks to indicate positive HIV status, walked around the rotunda and placed stickers on passersby every six seconds, to represent the frequency of new infections and the prevalence of the pandemic. This moving performance, which the students created themselves, was set to a recording of dramatic music and voices revealing newly-positive HIV status.

Following this short play, two VIS students read a special World AIDS Day address from Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. This address emphasized the importance of obeying the human rights of those infected by HIV and of people in prison settings, urging everyone to work to counter any form of HIV-related stigma and discrimination. Mr. Ban challenged all countries to remove punitive laws, policies and practices that hamper the AIDS response, including travel restrictions against people living with HIV. In closing, his speech said that responses to the HIV and AIDS epidemic have to be based on evidence, not ideology, and reach those most in need and most affected.

Then Gilberto Gerra, Chief of the Health and Human Development Section, addressed the audience, echoing the 2009 theme, "I am living my rights", when he emphasized the importance of the right to be educated about and protected from HIV. Mr. Gerra went on to say that violation of rights leads to stigma and discrimination, and that is our greatest obstacle to prevent the transmission of HIV.

Following the short speeches, the students from the VIS, donned in red T-shirts, formed a human red ribbon, which was photographed from above. Then they released 500 red balloons in the Memorial Plaza to conclude the public programme.

Just after the public programme ended, Christian Kroll, Global Coordinator for HIV and AIDS delivered a presentation to the Permanent Missions about UNODC's work pertaining to HIV and AIDS. He emphasized UNODC role, in conjunction with UNAIDS to address such challenges as human trafficking, injecting drug users, and those in prison settings. He highlighted some of the challenges UNODC staff members face in combating these issues on the ground.

Then, Marjana Grandits from the International Aids Society gave an overview of the AIDS 2010 conference which will be organized in Vienna in July 2010. Some of the Permanent Missions discussed these issues in greater detail. At the end of the session the representative of the Islamic Republic of Iran made a strong statement about the responsibility of the member states with regards to the fight against HIV and AIDS.