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World AIDS Day Highlights Need For Shift in Gay HIV Policies

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World Aids Day is held annually on December 1. While the day provides an opportunity for us to reflect on the past and presently growing concern over policies, prevention and the experiences of those living with HIV and AIDS, this year paints a bleak picture for men who have sex with men (MSMs).

In the UK alone, the number of gay and bisexual men diagnosed with HIV reached an all time high in 2011, with more than a quarter unaware that they have the virus. Gaystarnews.com reports that the UK's Health Protection Agency said that men who have sex with men account for nearly half of the 6,280 people diagnoses in 2011. "These figures are a reminder of how vital safe sex programmes remain," Valerie Delpech, head of the Health Protection Agency HIV surveillance unit told the website.

Similarly, in America, the Center for Disease Control reported that in 2010, young Black men and teens are affected greatest by the epidemic. 12,200 young gay and bisexual teenagers were diagnosed that year. Amongst them, half were young African American men, although young black people are more likely to get tested for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) than other at-risk groups, the agency found. The findings are in a report titled "HIV Among Youth in the US: Protecting a Generation" that appeared in the CDCs online newspaper Vital Signs.

The numbers aren't promising. Sixty percent of new infections among young people affect African Americans, compared with 20 percent for Hispanics and 20 percent for whites. Fifty-four percent of those new infections occur amongst African-American gay and bisexual men. The US Department of State Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health reports that although African Americans are only 13.6% of the U.S. population, they account for 43% of HIV infection cases (2009).

In all, over 50,000 people are affected by HIV each year in the United States, totaling a staggering 1 million people living with HIV.

What does this mean for the future of HIV prevention and services moving forward from this day of reflection, World AIDS Day?

The rising numbers of people affected by HIV and AIDS, despite prevention and policy measures in place to combat the health concern, calls for a new, more aggressive strategy to protect us today and the next generations.

In November 2012, US President Barack Obama called for "smart investments" on the strategy toward an HIV free generation, officially declaring Dec. 1 World AIDS Day. While World AIDS Day is not new, an official declaration points to an increase in priority to stagnate infection rates and support those already affected, specifically among African-American people.

In an open letter, Pres. Obama says that by 2014, all Americans living with HIV/AIDS will have access to health insurance guaranteed by the Affordable Care Act.

"I urge the Governors of the States and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, officials of the other territories subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, and the American people to join me in appropriate activities to remember those who have lost their lives to AIDS and to provide support and comfort to those living with this disease," Pres. Obama wrote.

Within the plan, Pres. Obama outlined the Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, which provides a blueprint for prevention and a halt on infections. Southfloridagaynews.com shares some of the main points of the plan.

For more information on World AIDS Day, including information on how you can be more "HIV aware", visit Worldaidsday.org. There you'll find HIV facts, tips for those affected by and living with HIV, and way that we all can help lend a hand in this fight for ourselves and future generations.
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