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World AIDS Day Message

Minister Mark Scotland

This year's World AIDS Day is distinctly marked by the desire to increase awareness levels so we can free HIV/AIDS sufferers from added - and wholly unnecessary - burdens of stigmatization and discrimination.

Since AIDS was first recognized by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 1981, it has become one of the most destructive epidemics in modern history. In 2007, estimates suggested that 33.2 million people lived with the disease worldwide, and that AIDS had already killed an estimated 2.1 million people, including 330,000 children.

Make no mistake. AIDS is a daunting disease, and over the past decades, countries and organizations have spent millions on understanding, preventing and treating it. However, despite its high profile, widely-held misconceptions continue regarding HIV/AIDS. This ignorance, in turn, leads to stigma, fear and intolerance.

And while freedom from discrimination is a fundamental human right that should be protected, we must also fight it for a host of other reasons. Stigmatizing HIV/AIDS sufferers can prevent them from accessing the care they need. They can also miss out on vital support from family and friends, just because they fear making their situations known. Also, stigma can lead to people avoiding getting tested-and if you don't know your status, you might not protect others as you should, or seek the care you need.

Clearly then, we must fight stigma and discrimination as hard as we fight the actual disease. I do however contend that reducing the impact of these negative forces in any community is a slow process. But the good news is that everyone can start making a difference today.

And so, I call on you to do two things: Respect those who have the disease and protect yourself and others by getting tested regularly and by practicing safe sex.

Having HIV/AIDS doesn't mean you have done 'something wrong' and nobody 'deserves' to have it for any reason. So, let's join together and challenge these stereotypes and divisive beliefs; let's foster a caring and protective environment for all.

For further information contact: Cornelia Oliver