Preparations are underway to commemorate this year’s World AIDS Day on December First, the theme of which is “The Promise of Partnerships.” As part of those preparations, the US Global AIDS Coordinator, Dr. Mark Dybul, visited VOA Thursday.
Dr. Dybul says if the world is ever going to stop the spread of HIV, the AIDS virus, it will take a concerted effort from all levels of societies.
“I really think on the World AIDS Day we want to emphasize that promise of partnership. That we are not going to solve the AIDS epidemic, we’re not going to solve any development issue, as long as we think in donor-recipient-reliance ways. It’s got to be a partnership and it’s got to be a partnership from everyone – government, non-government, private sector, faith based, community based. Everyone has got to come together in partnership if we’re going to tackle this epidemic,” he says.
Without a vaccine to stop the spread of HIV, Ambassador Dybul says infection prevention relies heavily on behavior change.
“That’s not an easy thing to do. Many people still smoke even though they know it could kill them. Many people eat fatty foods even though they know it can kill them. Changing human behavior is a very difficult thing and you can’t just tell people, well, you might die. It’s a much deeper, more difficult thing. And that means meeting people where they are, getting to some of the cultural influences that are so important in changing people’s behavior,” he says.
He says treatment and care, despite their complications, are relatively easy compared to changing people’s behavior.
He says the best way to think about HIV/AIDS is to liken it to cancer. It will be around for a long time to come.
“HIV/AIDS lives within our own cells. And the immune response and how we actually control the virus is still not well understood. So until we get some of those technological breakthroughs, it’s going to be very difficult to develop an effective preventive vaccine. At least fully effective, maybe we can get a partially protective one,” he says.
The statistics following 25 years of HIV/AIDS tell the tale of the pandemic: 65-million people infected, 25-million deaths. Most of them in sub-Saharan Africa. Nearly three-million deaths are attributed to HIV/AIDS every year. And each year there are an estimated four-million new infections.