December 1st is World AIDS Day, one of the most recognised international health days. President Obama declared “On World AIDS Day, we rededicate ourselves to developing a national AIDS strategy that will establish the priorities necessary to combat this devastating epidemic at home, and to renewing our leadership role and commitments abroad.” This year’s theme is Universal Access and Human Rights, and it provides us with the opportunity to raise awareness across the world about the state of the AIDS pandemic, and the critical next steps that must be taken to halt its spread.

The U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, PEPFAR, was launched in 2003 to combat global HIV/AIDS, and is the largest commitment by any nation to combat a single disease in history. Under PEPFAR, the U.S. Government has already committed more than $25 billion to the fight against global HIV/AIDS. Secretary Clinton explains “In its next phase, PEPFAR programs will support a comprehensive, whole-of-government approach in many countries, to increase awareness, reduce stigma, and get services to people at earlier stages. We must support services that are open and accessible to all, regardless of HIV status, sexual orientation, or gender. We will work to end the discrimination and marginalization of most-at-risk populations.”

Thanks to PEPFAR, an estimated 4 million individuals in low- and middle-income countries have access to antiretroviral treatment. The American people also have supported care for more than 10.1 million people worldwide, including more than 4 million orphans and vulnerable children. Nearly 240,000 babies have been born free of HIV thanks to programs supported by the American people to prevent mothers from passing the virus on to their children. The American people, through PEPFAR, supported nearly 57 million counseling and testing encounters through 2008. As PEPFAR goes forward, the United States will support efforts through President Obama’s Global Health Initiative to make health systems more responsive to people living with HIV by increasing integration and facilitating their access to health care services, including those for tuberculosis, malaria, maternal and child health, and family planning.

AIDS, the acquired immune deficiency syndrome, is considered to be one of the most destructive epidemics in recorded history. According to the latest World Health Organization data, over 2 million people including 280,000 children, died of AIDS in 2008. Observed on the first day of December every year, World AIDS Day was established to raise awareness of the AIDS pandemic and the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which causes AIDS. World AIDS day allows us to honor the millions of people around the world who have been impacted by the AIDS epidemic, those who are living with HIV, those we have lost, and the caregivers, families, friends and communities who have provided support. More than 33 million people worldwide live with the disease, and the number is still growing. Nearly 3 million people are newly infected with HIV each year, so a strong commitment by all nations is required to conquer AIDS. Although treatments for AIDS and HIV can slow the course of the disease, there is currently no vaccine or cure. Due to the difficulty in treating HIV infection, preventing infection through raising awareness is a key aim in controlling the AIDS pandemic.

In the next five years, the United States will partner with nations to build the long-term sustainability of their national HIV/AIDS responses and support country-led efforts to make universal access a reality for their citizens.

Please click here to read the Presidential Proclamation on World AIDS Day 2009.