Get to Zero

This year’s World AIDS Day theme is about getting to zero – zero new HIV infections, zero AIDS-related deaths and zero discrimination. Medical students around the world gather this week on the local, national and international level to mark the World AIDS Day. Together they have extensively organized conferences, lectures, peer education training sessions, flash-mobs, parties and concerts in order to spread awareness and knowledge about HIV/AIDS. Thousands of them with one strong message – ‘Get To Zero!’

Uniting their activities together on the international level, they produced the IFMSA World AIDS Day 2011 video and the IFMSA World AIDS Day 2011 posters that demonstrate medical students from 27 countries representing the number of new HIV infections per year in their countries. The physicians-in-training capture their inspiration to reducing the number of new HIV infections per year to zero. These not only inspired, but aware medical students recognize that controlling and eradicating the spread of the virus is the only truly effective way forward in the HIV/AIDS epidemic: ”We in IFMSA decided to raise our voices in highlighting the importance of making new HIV infections get to zero.”

Thirty years into the HIV epidemic provides us an opportunity to reflect on what has been achieved and what needs to be done. Looking at the UNAIDS Global Reports of 2009 and 2010, the number of AIDS-related deaths is stabilizing on an estimate of 1.8 million which is seemingly lower than years before. This success is thanks to the important achievements in the treatment of the virus and in delaying the AIDS defining illnesses and death. However, 10 million people still need treatment and do not have access to antiretroviral therapy. Recently the data shows that in some high-income countries where the treatment has been made widely available, the number of new HIV infections is increasing, especially in some populations (i.e. men having sex with men). Comparing the number of new HIV infections on a global level in 2009 and 2010, we see the increase from an estimate of 2.7 to 2.8 million new HIV infections per year. Although it is lower than in the late 1990s, the trend of new HIV infections per year is again increasing, and the time is now to reverse it before it takes the swing with the consequences that could be devastating.

IFMSA’s Perspective
We, in IFMSA believe that the more treatment we have, the more prevention we need! Latest results showing that treatment as much as prevention can reduce the risk of transmission of HIV by 96% are encouraging and exciting, but still it will take years to put the estimated 10 million people on the treatment. With the disappointing trial results of the microbicides gel failing to prevent HIV transmission, more than ever it is necessary to recognize the importance of the effective preventative methods that are often not transcribed into consolidated, organized and serious actions. It is clear that successful HIV prevention programs need to be based on providing a comprehensive approach to HIV/AIDS education addressing sexuality, gender equality, sexual orientation, attitudes and values. We believe it is the only effective way in achieving behavioral change and adopting safer sexual practices which will lead to significant and rapid decrease in the number of people newly infected with HIV.

We also feel that young people need to be involved in every aspect from policy development to implementation to eradicate the spread of HIV/AIDs. The importance of such comprehensive sexual education as HIV prevention is even higher when we know that young people aged 15-24 account for 42% of all new HIV infections. There is clear evidence that young people are disproportionately affected by the HIV epidemic and that the AIDS response must be shaped to respond to these urging numbers of young people being at the spear tip of the epidemic.

We believe this is a goal than can and must be achieved by empowering, educating and investing in the youth.

We in IFMSA, as a youth-led non governmental organization, see ourselves as a advocates for young people, those newly infected with HIV daily and those millions living under the everyday threat of becoming infected, when we say that now is the time of making the new HIV infections get to zero. On this World AIDS Day, we are calling upon institutional organizations, governments and stakeholders to reaffirm that they must accord top priority to making investments in putting young people in the center of the fight against HIV/AIDS as it is for the well-being of our tomorrow.

Joško MIŠE
IFMSA Director on Reproductive Health including AIDS 2011/2012

About IFMSA:
For over 60 years, the International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations (IFMSA) has striven to foster a more caring future generation of physicians. Our Federation represents over 1.2 million medical students from 106 national member organizations from 99 countries across the globe. The IFMSA is an active network of young people engaged in their communities in order to contribute to achieving global health. Enjoying official relations with the WHO since 1969, IFMSA is recognized as the international voice of medical students. We organize 11,000 medical student exchanges a year and a wealth of student-led projects which fall into four main fields of interest: medical education, public health, human rights and peace, and reproductive health, including HIV/AIDs.

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