Tuesday is World AIDS Day. Held every Dec. 1 since 1988, the day is not just to remember those lost or to raise money for a cure. It's also about awareness, and as you pass people in the street with red ribbons or perhaps added to an online profile, it may seem like awareness is at its peak. So, how can you help fight the AIDS pandemic on this important day?
Perhaps people are more aware than ever before. That may well be true, but rates of infection are not falling. New cases have remained stable at about 50,000 per year in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report some 13 percent of the 1.2 million Americans living with the virus don't even know it.
Overseas statistics can be even more troubling. In Europe, the number of new cases is rising. Some 142,000 people were diagnosed in 2014 in Europe alone. Worldwide, there were 2 million new cases, with 70 percent taking place in sub-Saharan Africa.
Despite the dire statistics, there's a lot of hope. And there's lots you can do this World AIDS Day. The potential ways to help are endless, but there are realistic, concrete steps you can take to stop the spread of this pandemic. And you don't have to be Bill Gates or fly to Africa.
Get an HIV test. Are you sexually active? Have you had an HIV test in the last six months? Depending on how many partners you have and if you always practice safe sex, the CDC recommends a test every three months to a year. According to the CDC, one in seven Americans with HIV doesn't know they are infected, so even if your partner thinks they are HIV-negative, you never know.
The great thing about knowing your status is that it gives you the knowledge to protect yourself and others. Studies show the sooner one gets on antiretroviral drugs, the less likely HIV is to become AIDS. And when you're on them, it's harder to spread the virus to others. Find a local testing center here.
Wear a red ribbon today. The widely-recognized symbol of the fight against AIDS can show others you're engaged on the issue and spark a conversation. Tell others to get tested and become informed about the disease. You can also add one to your social media profile pictures. Twibbon.com will add a ribbon to the corner of your existing profile picture to use on Twitter and Facebook. Join the conversation on social media. Write a post. Use #WAD2015 on Twitter.
One of the biggest problems facing people with HIV is the stigma they face. While nowhere near the heights of the 1980s, when Princess Diana hugging an HIV-positive child made headlines around the world, stigma is still a real concern.
Look into volunteering at a community agency that provides direct care to those living with HIV/AIDS. Call the FDA or sign this petition and ask them to repeal their ban on sexually active gay men donating blood. Couples in stable, monogamous relationships shouldn't be excluded. Consider sharing videos from the Positive Spin campaign on social media so your friends and followers can see that HIV-positive individuals are just like the rest of us.
Were you aware there is a drug that prevents nearly 100 percent of HIV infections when taken correctly? No? Well, a lot of doctors aren't either.
When you talk to your friends, make sure they know about PrEP, or pre-exposure prophylaxis. The brand name is Truvada, and it's an antiretroviral pill you can take everyday that makes it impossible for the HIV virus to copy itself, halting any new infections. The drug is very expensive, but there are ways to get it for free — even without insurance. The drug is aimed at men who have sex with men and intravenous drug users, but can be prescribed to anyone at risk. San Francisco has seen new infections drop 30 percent since the drug was approved.
Consider making a donation to an HIV/AIDS NGO. Money is a big reason that more people around the world are not on antiretroviral therapy. The President's Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR, has worked to provide the drugs to 2 million of the world's poor who need them most, but there are many non-profits that work around the world to connect everyone with testing and treatment services too. The Elton John Foundation spends 94 percent of the money the raise on treatment and prevention programs.
If you're not in the position to donate, upload a World AIDS Day video to Snapchat. The social network has partnered with Bono's (RED) NGO and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. For every video that is uploaded with a (RED) World AIDS Day filter, $3 will be donated by the Gates Foundation to the fight against AIDS.