Millions of people around the globe marked World AIDS Day on Sunday with marches, prayers, and hope amid grim statistics that show the epidemic outpacing all efforts to control it. In China, officials instructed 1 million students to launch a new national AIDS awareness campaign, while in South Africa--the country worst hit by the disease--activists held a mass funeral for babies.
In New York City, where the gay community suffered the first major U.S. outbreak of AIDS more than 20 years ago, a World AIDS Day rally emphasized the disease's spread to every community. "It's time to stop the denial, the partying, and the pretension: AIDS kills gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, and straight people," said Doneley Meris, who helps run mental health and social services for people living with HIV and AIDS.
In San Francisco, where the gay community was also devastated by the disease, AIDS activists honored victims of the deadly illness with a ceremony at Golden Gate Park's National AIDS Memorial Grove. "Anyone who has been touched by HIV or AIDS either through their own infection or through loved ones is invited to find remembrance and renewal through Sunday's commemoration," said Gary Pike, cochairman of the National Aids Memorial Grove.
Estimates released by the United Nations last week indicate that more than 40 million people worldwide are infected with HIV, the vast majority of them in sub-Saharan Africa. AIDS will have killed 3.1 million people by the end of this year, while 5 million more will have been infected, the United Nations Joint Programme on HIV/AIDS said in its report. The virus also appears to be rapidly spreading in Eastern Europe and Asia, areas that now have the fastest-growing HIV infection rates in the world.