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World AIDS Day: Getting To Zero (Pictures)

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After 30 years of the global fight against HIV and AIDS, the theme for this year's World AIDS Day is Getting to Zero - zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths.

Building on last year's successful Light for Rights initiative, the Zero campaign has come about after extensive discussions among people living with HIV, health activists and many others; in all more than 100 organisations were consulted by the United Nations.

According to the recent UNAids World AIDS Day Report, a record estimated 34 million people were living with HIV worldwide at the end of 2010, up 17% from 2001. However, the number of new annual HIV infections fell by 21% between 1997 and 2010 with the implication being that people with HIV were living longer, largely due to greater access to treatment. The number of deaths from AIDS-related illnesses has also dropped from 2.2m in 2005 to 1.8m last year.

UNAids said the drop in new HIV infections had been helped by changes in sexual behaviour, particularly among young people who had reduced their number of sexual partners, increased their condom use and who were waiting longer before becoming sexually active. The report added that an increase in the number of male circumcisions had also started to contribute to declines in new HIV infections and estimated that circumcising 20 million more men across eastern Europe and southern Africa would avert around 3.4m new HIV infections by 2015.

"Even in a very difficult financial crisis, countries are delivering results in the AIDS response." said Michel Sidibe, Executive Director of UNAIDS. "We have seen a massive scale up in access to HIV treatment which has had a dramatic effect on the lives of people everywhere.

"We are on the verge of a significant breakthrough in the AIDS response... new HIV infections continue to fall and more people than ever are starting treatment.

"Just a few years ago, talking about ending the AIDS epidemic in the near term seemed impossible, but science, political support and community responses are starting to deliver clear and tangible results."

UNAids has created a framework of action within the Getting to Zero campaign which concentrates on six essential programme activities: focused interventions for key populations at higher risk (particularly sex workers and their clients, men who have sex with men, and people who inject drugs); prevention of new HIV infections in children; behaviour change programmes; condom promotion and distribution; treatment, care and support for people living with HIV; and voluntary medical male circumcision in countries with high HIV prevalence.

The organisation hopes that these measures will help avert at least 12.2m new HIV infections, including 1.9m among children between 2011 and 2020 as well as 7.4m AIDS-related deaths.

"The investment framework is community driven not commodity driven. It puts people at the centre of the approach, not the virus," said Sidibe.