There are 33 million people living with HIV across the world today.
The International AIDS Candlelight Memorial, organised by the Global Health Council, is one of the oldest and largest grassroots mobilization campaignes for HIV/AIDS, with the aim of raising awareness of the lives of HIV positive people. Initiated in 1983, the Candlelight Memorial is led by a coalition of around 1,200 community organisations in 115 countries, hosting local memorials that honor the lost and raise social consciousness about the disease. It continues to serve as an important intervention for global solidarity, breaking down barriers, and giving hope to new generations, as many coordinating organisations use the Candlelight Memorial as an opportunity to promote local AIDS services, encourage education and community dialogue, and advocate for the advancement of public policy. National coordinators are appointed to lead activities in their retrospective countries, and my NGO headed up a group of relevant organisations to deliver the programme of events in Dhaka city, representing Bangladesh as a whole.
The voice of people living, either directly or inderectly with HIV/AIDS forms the backdrop to this event, with the focus particularly on the commemoration of those who have passed away during the previous year. My NGO had commissioned Chanel I, a National Television studio to make a documentary, featuring some of the stories of our HIV positive benefactors and their families to highlight the current situation here in Bangladesh. One hundred and fifty guests were invited to view this documentary, including the Country Director of Family Health International, the Director of the South Asia HIV/AIDS Programme for Save the Children, and many of my HIV positive colleagues and benefactors.
The audience sat rivited while heartbreaking story after story was told, first from the perspective of a husband, then a wife, next a daughter, son…and so on, highlighting the heavy price paid by individuals but also by the community in general. The media attended in force, creating maximum opportunity to raise awareness of this problem in a country which has so many other issues competing for attention. But whatever way you look at it, stopping the silent and deadly spread of this disease around most countries in the globe has to factor up there amongst the most important challenges we face every day in the 21st century.