Today, Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-Miramar) made the following statement in recognition of the International AIDS Candlelight Memorial, which is observed annually on the third Sunday in May to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS. Coordinated by the Global Network of People living with HIV, it is one of the world's oldest and largest grassroots mobilization campaigns for HIV awareness in the world. The International AIDS Candlelight Memorial was started in 1983 and is led by a coalition of some 1,200 community organizations in 115 countries.
"Bringing an end to HIV/AIDS remains one of the greatest public health challenges of our time. Over the past 30 years, more than 22 million people have died due to HIV/AIDS-related illness. And currently, more than 33 million people are living with HIV/AIDS worldwide.
"The International AIDS Candlelight Memorial seeks to honor the memories of all those who have lost their lives to HIV/AIDS while raising social consciousness about the disease. Despite the advent of anti-retroviral drug regimens and other lifesaving advances in treatment and care, social and structural barriers such as poverty, stigma, and discrimination continue to obstruct access to these services for individuals and communities. In fact, it is estimated that there are about nine million people around the world living with HIV who are still in need of treatment and do not have access.
"Simply put, we cannot hope to end the HIV/AIDS crisis unless we prevent the transmission of the virus and ensure equal access to testing and treatment, evidence-based prevention, and care and support. In particular, we must address the needs of at-risk groups, including vulnerable children and young people, communities of color, and men who have sex with men (MSM), as well as related challenges such as hepatitis and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and other contributing social and economic factors. Furthermore, we must continue to promote the rights of individuals living with HIV/AIDS by supporting legislation and policies that protect them against stigma and discrimination.
"As a member of the Congressional HIV/AIDS Caucus, I have led and supported various initiatives to increase access to prevention, testing, and treatment services here at home and abroad. In the 112th Congress, I introduced H.R. 1774, the Increasing Access to Voluntary Screening for HIV/AIDS and STIs Act, which establishes a broad coverage policy for voluntary HIV/AIDS and STIs screening that focuses on at-risk and historically underrepresented communities. Furthermore, I continue to support robust funding for the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).
"I am pleased to join the international HIV/AIDS community in recognizing this important event. The International AIDS Candlelight Memorial is a testament to the power of grassroots advocates and communities to effect positive policy change. Together, we can raise awareness about HIV/AIDS, combat stigma and discrimination, and give hope to new generations."