Worlds AIDS Day is being commemorated globally today with HIV/AIDS testing initiatives, awareness drives, and fundraising efforts. Since its discovery in the early 1980s, AIDS has killed over 25 million people and today 3.3 million are living with HIV worldwide. A United Nations report (see PDF) released earlier this year indicated that the percentage of AIDS deaths worldwide has decreased 10% though the prevalence of new infections is steady at 2.7 million per year.
The AIDS Healthcare Foundation coordinated a 'One Million Tests' campaign that coordinates with World AIDS Day and seeks to test over one million people worldwide for HIV/AIDS with the assistance of more than 1,000 partner organizations. A study released last week by the World Health Organization confirms the benefits of universal testing and early treatment. This study found that annual voluntary universal HIV/AIDS testing and treatment with antiretroviral drugs immediately upon diagnosis could reduce HIV cases by up to 95 percent worldwide in 10 years, according to the Washington Post.
Dr. Margaret Chan, Director General of the World Health Organization, said in a statement on this year's World's AIDS Day that "empowerment is critical for an effective response, and most especially so for prevention. We must do much more to empower adolescent girls and women, both to protect themselves and to act as agents of change….In many countries, legal as well as social and cultural barriers prevent groups at risk from receiving the interventions and knowledge needed to reduce harmful behaviors."
Middle East's First Women Demining Team Trained
A demining team of 15 women, which is the first all-female demining team in the Middle East, began work yesterday detecting and removing landmines in northern Jordan. A second team of women will begin in February 2009. The women, who were trained and contracted by
Norwegian People's Aid (NPA), will work alongside all male teams to remove approximately 136,000 landmines along the Jordanian/Syrian border, according to Agence France Presse.
Each woman will earn benefits and a monthly salary equivalent to $760Lini Gazi, a spokeswoman for NPA, told Irin that "we want to show everybody that women can do anything men do." Walaa Andali, one of the newly trained deminers, told the AFP that "I know that removing landmines is going to be dangerous and might cost me my life, but at the same time, this job is feasible and might help me start my professional life."
According to The National, 50 people were injured and 3 were killed in Jordan by landmines between 2005 and 2007. In addition to posing physical threats to civilians, landmines also have economic implications because they prevent land development.
Indiana Chapter of Planned Parenthood to Offer Gift Certificates
Planned Parenthood of Indiana will offer gift certificates for their services this holiday season. The Indiana state vice president of PPFA told Indiana's CBS 10 that the decision to offer the certificates is in part because of the economic downturn: "People are making really tough decisions about putting gas in their car and food on their table, so we know that many women especially put healthcare at their bottom of their list to do." Nearly 800,000 in the state do not have health insurance, according to the Associated Press.
PPFA of Indiana offers a range of basic health care services including annual exams that include pap smears and breast exams, dispensing of birth control prescriptions, as well as abortion services.
The gift certificates have drawn criticism from anti-choice forces. The Office for Pro-Life Ministry for the Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis, Indiana Right to Life, and the American Life League are among the groups who have denounced the gift certificates. However, Dr. Judy Monroe, Indiana’s health commissioner, has called the certificates a "really a meaningful gift," according to the Washington Times.
Betty Cockrum, president and CEO of PPFA of Indiana responded in the Washington Times to charges that the certificates promote abortion: "an abortion is a tragic and urgent situation in a women's life, and gift certificates don't lend themselves to that." She also said that "even a gift certificate of $25 goes a long way toward what's potentially a life-saving but certainly just essential, basic health care for a loved one." Only 5,000 of the 92,000 patients seen annually by PPFA of Indiana receive abortion services.