San Francisco's Twin Peaks and Sutro Tower with AIDS Ribbon. Photo courtesy of flickr user charliewarhol

Today is World AIDS Day, which has been observed globally since 1988. Looking back at the past 25 years, it’s astounding the progress that has been made in diagnosing, treating and preventing the disease, but it’s important to note that we are still far from eradicating AIDS.

An estimated 34 million people worldwide are living with AIDS, and some 25 million have already died from the disease since it was first recognized in 1981. World AIDS Day serves as an important global reminder to the public and government officials that education and prevention of the disease, along with understanding the stigmatized social implications it has, remains a critical point in further controlling its spread.

San Francisco has always been disproportionately affected by the disease, comprising almost one-fifth of California’s cases of AIDS. Nearly 29,000 people have contracted HIV/AIDS since the beginning of the epidemic, and more than 19,000 have died from it.

The neighborhoods with the highest numbers of people living with HIV/AIDS are the Castro, Mission, Western Addition and Tenderloin, according to the SF AIDS Foundation.

While incredible advancements in medicine have made HIV/AIDS a more manageable disease, considerable pressure rests on those in power to direct funding towards treatment. Lawmakers and activists are taking the opportunity surrounding the 25th anniversary of World AIDS Day to implore President Obama to take “legacy-setting” action to combat HIV/AIDS. A bipartisan group of 40 lawmakers earlier this month called on Obama to announce a new goal for the U.S. government to double its support of treatment of lifesaving anti-retroviral drugs by the end of his presidency.

Experts say one of the biggest challenges is overcoming complacency some may have around HIV/AIDS.  Due to major scientific advances, many may feel they can let their guard down, believing risks of infection are lower and subsequent treatment is simpler. Additionally, believing that everyone knows their status – and will thus inform others – is a common misconception, along with the idea that anyone can tell who’s healthy and who isn’t. In reality, one in five people infected with HIV doesn’t even know it, and many may not exhibit symptoms at all. All HIV/AIDS organizations stress that knowing the realities surrounding HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment is of paramount importance, emphasizing that shared responsibility could lead to future generations that are free from  HIV/AIDS.

A number of events are taking place in San Francisco to commemorate World AIDS Day, starting with a candlelight vigil in the AIDS Memorial Grove in Golden Gate Park tonight. A larger event will be held tomorrow evening in the Castro, a daytime reading event at the Center for Sex and Culture, and a forum on Monday at the LGBT Community Center.

Know the facts, protect yourself, remember others and wear your ribbon!

Heather Mack

Heather Mack, 30, has spent most of her life outdoors and often hangs out in the less-frequented parks of San Francisco to avoid the crowds of places like Dolores Park on a Saturday. She believes that...

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