World AIDS Day is celebrated around the globe to commemorate those who have died from acquired immunodeficiency syndrome and those still living with the disease.
California Lutheran University hosted a three-part World AIDS Day event on Friday, Dec. 1.
According to the World AIDS Day website, World AIDS Day was founded in 1988 and was the first global health day.
Cal Lutheran Professor of Sociology Adina Nack is also chair of the World AIDS Day planning committee for the HIV/AIDS Coalition of Ventura County.
“As a member of the HCVC, I have organized annual events to commemorate World AIDS Day for Ventura County since 2004,” Nack said.
The first part of the event was an ‘HIV/AIDS 101’ education session with Nack. Next, Lynn Bartosh presented surveillance data for Ventura County from Joseph Summers with the Diversity Collective Ventura County.
Bartosh, who is from the Ventura County Public Health Department’s HIV/AIDS Center, said that “as of June 2016, there had been 50 new cases of HIV and AIDS in Ventura County.”
Bartosh said that of those new cases, 34 percent were under the age of 25.
“There were a total of 605 HIV cases and 1,564 AIDS cases in Ventura County as of 2016,” Bartosh said.
According to the World AIDS Day website, the virus was identified in 1984 and has already killed over 35 million people globally, “making it one of the most destructive pandemics in history.”
According to the United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) website, “since the start of the epidemic over 76.1 million people have become infected with HIV and 35.0 million people have died from AIDS-related illnesses.”
Nack said that 30 years into the HIV/AIDS pandemic, the lack of press coverage and media attention are “troubling signs of public complacency.”
Student Program Coordinator at the Center for Equality and Justice Mayra Favela said this event “serves as an educational event where people are aware of the disease of AIDS, and commemorate those who have passed from an AIDS-related illness.”
The second part of the event was the ‘Positively Speaking’ panel coordinated by Planned Parenthood California Central Coast. The four-person panel of community members living with HIV or AIDS told their stories, talked about their experiences with different HIV/AIDS medications, interpersonal relationships, mental health and losing friends and loved ones to AIDS.
“We honor the millions of lives lost to AIDS, and we reaffirm our commitment to support those who are living with HIV/AIDS. We also celebrate their families, friends and caregivers as we spotlight the need to increase support for medical research and resources for education and outreach,” Nack said.
Favela said that the event is “an opportunity to unite in the fight against HIV” and to show continuing support for all the people still living with HIV/AIDS everyday.
According to the AIDSinfo project, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is the virus that causes HIV infection. The website states, “HIV attacks and destroys the infection-fighting CD4 cells of the immune system. The loss of CD4 cells makes it difficult for the body to fight infections and certain cancers. Without treatment, HIV can gradually destroy the immune system and advance to AIDS.”
The event ended with a candlelight vigil organized by Associate Professor of Religion Colleen Windham-Hughes and a group of her students, during which HIV/AIDS statistics were read out and the group chanted, “We can all do better.”
“Today, scientific advances have been made in HIV treatment; there are laws to protect people living with HIV and we understand so much more about the condition,” according to the World AIDS Day website.
According to the UNAIDS website, 1 million people died from AIDS worldwide in 2016, which shows a decline compared to the 1.9 million AIDS deaths in 2005.
“World AIDS Day is important because it reminds the public and government that HIV has not gone away – there is still a vital need to raise money, increase awareness, fight prejudice and improve education,” according to the World AIDS Day website.
According to the AIDSinfo, to reduce the risk of infection, practice safe sex and “never share drug injection equipment.”