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Western Aids Quilt

It is World AIDS Day. A day in which we traditionally reflect upon the ravages of the pandemic. Hard to imagine that some 40 million people worldwide are now infected with HIV.

And amazing to remember when there was no HIV.

I wonder if this is how our parents felt about influenza or polio when they were younger.

(Kim: My parents weren't very interested in AIDS, but they were scared that we'd get polio. I wasn't allowed to drink from a public drinking fountain.

I asked my dad if he'd rather see 5 million kids die on the other side of the Earth, or one of his own kids. He didn't hesitate for a moment and said . . . ")

Later,

Joan



December 01, 2005

World AIDS Day marked with marches, education campaigns Schoolchildren in Senegal pledged to abstain from sex and Indian village women cast off a veil of shame about their HIV status as World AIDS Day was marked around the globe Thursday.

About 40 million people worldwide are now infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Some 3 million of them are expected to die of AIDS this year. Africa, with only 10% of the world's population, suffers over half of its HIV infections.

Heavily Muslim Senegal is a relative bright spot on the continent, with only about 1% of the population infected. Thursday, dozens of children packed into a schoolhouse in the central Senegal town of Fatick to learn more about the disease. "Our teacher told us that AIDS is a very dangerous disease," said 13-year old Aissatou Niang, wearing a green headscarf. "Only abstinence can save us," she said as her schoolmates giggled nearby.

"I've decided to wait until I'm 19 to have a relationship," said Awa Sarr. "When I go back home I'll tell my brothers and sisters about AIDS; that's why we're here."

Such frank talk among African children is likely to cheer AIDS activists, who say science can help treat those with HIV but that ignorance or taboos surrounding its transmission and symptoms means AIDS is hard to halt—and treat. "We want to say to people that HIV/AIDS is not a death sentence—there is treatment, there is life after HIV," Karen Stewart, with the aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres, said at a rally in Lagos, Nigeria.

In India, some 70 HIV-infected women stepped out of the shadows during a rally in Golaghat, a town in the eastern state of Assam, to acknowledge that they are living with the disease and should not be shunned. "I'm happy many women have paid heed to our call and have openly admitted to their HIV-positive status," said Jahnabi Goswami, 28. "Men with the disease need to follow suit."

An estimated 5.1 million people are living with HIV in India—the most in any single country except South Africa. Nigeria, Africa's most-populous nation, is third.

From the far reaches of the globe, solidarity was shown with the world's AIDS sufferers. Thousands of candles were to illuminate the Swedish winter gloom, with AIDS vigils planned for the capital, Stockholm, and a southern city, Malmo.

The British government marked World AIDS Day by contributing $48 million to the global fight against the disease.

Estonia's National Institute for Health Development campaigned Thursday for increased tolerance and better integration of HIV-infected persons into Estonian society. With over 5,000 diagnosed cases, Estonia—a tiny nation with 1.4 million inhabitants—has one of the highest HIV infection rates in Europe, being spreadin the country mainly through drug use.

World religious leaders also added their voices to calls for renewed commitment to fight the disease. Speaking Wednesday during his weekly public audience to several thousand pilgrims and tourists gathered in the rain in St. Peter's Square in Vatican City, Pope Benedict XVI called the figures on AIDS victims "alarming" and reiterated the church's commitment to the care of the sick.

In a statement, Archbishop Christodoulos, head of the Orthodox Church of Greece, said AIDS sufferers "should not lose their faith in God but see this major trial as a spiritual opportunity."

World Aids Day, meant to boost awareness of the disease, didn't grab everyone's attention. The day's events were canceled by royal decree Thursday in Swaziland, among the hardest-hit countries and Africa's last absolute monarchy, because they clashed with a traditional ceremony scheduled for the same day. The announcement shocked activists in a country of 1 million where more than 38% of adults are infected with HIV—the highest infection rate in the world.

Only a few dozen joined a procession in Nigeria's biggest city of Lagos. "Since I believe I don't have it, I don't see why I should march," said Mufu Adebajo, a 22-year-old craftsman watching from his roadside stand. "Otherwise, people will think I have it." (AP)

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