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World AIDS Day 2023: A Global Call for Community Leadership in the HIV Response

Each year, December 1 marks an important event in global health: World AIDS Day. This day unites people worldwide in support of those living with HIV and in remembrance of those who have died from AIDS-related illnesses. Since its inception in 1988, World AIDS Day has served as a platform to address various challenges related to HIV/AIDS. The theme for World AIDS Day 2023 is "Let Communities Lead," focusing on empowering community leadership to enhance the global HIV response.

The 2023 Theme: Empowering Communities

This year's theme, "Let Communities Lead," highlights the crucial role communities play in combating HIV/AIDS. The idea is that meaningful change in the HIV response is not the result of a single moment but a sustained movement led by communities. This message is not confined to a single day but is the centerpiece of activities throughout November, culminating in the release of the World AIDS Day Report titled "Let Communities Lead" and continuing beyond December.

Despite the significant role communities play, they face numerous obstacles, including funding shortages, policy and regulatory challenges, capacity constraints, and issues related to civil society and human rights. World AIDS Day 2023 not only celebrates community achievements but also serves as a call to action to remove these barriers and fully support community leadership roles in all aspects of HIV plans and programmes.

UNAIDS Executive Director Winnie Byanyima emphasizes that ending AIDS is possible through community leadership. UNESCO, led by Director-General Audrey Azoulay, echoes this sentiment, highlighting the alarming HIV statistics and the unique vulnerability of young people, especially women and girls. "According to UNAIDS, there were 1.3 million new HIV infections in 2022, bringing the total number of people living with the virus to 39 million. Nearly a quarter of these individuals do not have access to antiretroviral treatment – and every minute a life is lost to AIDS. While these figures are concerning, they are only part of the picture. In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, three-quarters of new HIV infections are among adolescent girls and young women aged between 15 and 24. Less than half of districts with high incidence rates have dedicated HIV prevention programmes. In other words, young people, particularly women and girls, continue to be particularly vulnerable to HIV infection, often due to limited access to education and health information and services. This is where communities have an essential role to play – and that is why they are the theme of this year’s World AIDS Day. "

Audrey Azoulay added, "Here at UNESCO, we galvanize the power of education to contribute to the global AIDS response – for example, through the “Our Rights, Our Lives, Our Future” programme. In its first phase, this initiative equipped over 500,000 teachers to provide life skills, including comprehensive sexuality education, and reached more than 34 million learners across 33 sub-Saharan African countries. We look forward to rolling out the second phase of this project, which was launched in June earlier this year and will run through 2027."

World AIDS Day 2023 underscores the importance of community involvement in the fight against HIV/AIDS. By adopting the theme "Let Communities Lead," the day calls for a global shift in approach, focusing on empowering communities to take the lead in HIV prevention and treatment services. This year’s commemoration is not just a reflection on past achievements but a forward-looking movement, urging the world to embrace community leadership as a cornerstone in the path to ending AIDS.

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