Today is World AIDS Day, and this year’s theme is Universal Access and Human Rights. MMWR offers the following statistics to illustrate the scope of the issue:

  • An estimated 16.5 million women worldwide were HIV positive at the end of 2008
  • Approximately 4 million people in low- and middle-income countries were getting antiretroviral therapy at the end of 2008
  • Worldwide, women and girls account for almost 60% of new infections; in the US, HIV infections disproportionately affect blacks, Hispanics, and men who have sex with men
  • In the US, an estimated 1.1 million people were HIV positive in 2006

Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, who serves as an ambassador for The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, is emphasizing the importance of treating all HIV-positive pregnant women to reduce the transmission of HIV between mothers and babies during birth and breastfeeding. Currently, only about one-third of pregnant women in Africa receive HIV testing, and only about 45% of those who test positive get the medication to stop HIV transmission to their children.

The treatment of HIV-positive individuals doesn’t just refer to drugs, though; discrimination against those with HIV and AIDS is also a serious problem. That’s why it was welcome news recently when President Obama announced the end to a ban on travel to the US by those infected with HIV. The ban had remained in effect even though last year Congress passed, and President Bush signed, legislation that repealed the statute on which the ban was based.