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(AP Photo/ Sergey Ponomarev)

So many lights lost to AIDS.  So many lights.

Today, on World Aids Day, let us take a little time to discuss what this disease has meant to so many people, around the world, who live with HIV/AIDS — and to so many more who have lost friends and family to this disease.  And how prevention and working toward a cure needs to be stepped up…before the loss grows ever larger.

As the BBC reports:

In the countries hardest hit by AIDS economic growth has declined by half a percent every year between 1992 and 2004, the ILO report reveals. Worst affected is sub-Saharan Africa where the loss is higher – point seven percent. AIDS is killing the workforce. In 2005 three point four million people of working age died of the disease, this year that figure is expected to be four and a half million.

The effect is two fold. The economy becomes sluggish, growth drops, there's no energy for initiatives that will create new jobs. At the same time young people, many below working age lose their parents and are forced to work to survive. Often in dangerous and low paid jobs. For girls especially, that can mean the sex industry. Young people now account for half of all new HIV infections, what's more most young people with HIV don't even know they carry the virus.

The NYTimes profiles some of these at-risk girls in a heartbreaking article today.   It is a difficult read, but it needs much more discussion and action — and not just in Africa, but all over the globe.  I have had to face too many children in this situation, bravely sitting on the stand clutching a teddy bear and talking about something that such a small child should never, ever have had to live through — and in order to break this abusive power structure, the first step is for all of us to educate ourselves about what happens to these children.  These tiny, innocent children, who are victimized by violent adults who are, in truth, very often former victims of the same abuse themselves.  But when you add in the increased risk of AIDS transmission in such violent rape, the desperate need for protection of these innocents increases as well.

We must do better.

HIV/AIDS is not limited to any particular social or sexual class.  It can hit rich or poor, straight or homo or bi or whatever, married or single, monogomous or cruising, old or young.  It could be you.  Or someone you love.

Back in June, I talked about a dear friend of mine who was lost to AIDS back in the early days when no one quite knew what it was.  The comments section of that post is full of poignant heartbreaking stories of loss and survival, and I find myself going back to it sometimes when some new wave of bad news about the disease hits the airwaves.  I thought, perhaps, some of you might find it a useful read as well today, along with the further posts on compassion and hope, and a very poignant piece from TRex that is one of his very best, about a friend who has now passed from AIDS as well.

The South African newspaper Mail and Guardian has a profile of some local residents who are trying to live with AIDS in an environment where there is still an enormous stigma attached to the disease.  In a nation on a continent that has been ravaged by HIV/AIDS, it is tough to think about the day to day existence of the people who struggle simply to live.  But we must think about them

We must do better.

Several major airlines are showing "Beat the Drum," a documentary of a boy who is found to be HIV-positive as its in-flight movie.  Nothing like educating an entire captive audience about a tough subject, eh?  The Independent has dedicated an issue today to World AIDS Day, and has some amazing reporting from all over the globe on the issue.  The Red Campaign is one of many, many efforts from any number of sources across the world to hold out a hand to those who most need it.  And all over the world today, people are doing things to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS:

SAN FRANCISCO high schoolers are selling palm-sized origami cranes for 25 cents. Some 5,000 Beijing cab drivers are handing out health-tip cards to their fares. African radio stations are devoting an hour a day to one special subject.

What's the connection? It's AIDS, the worldwide plague that now has its very own day, today, Dec. 1. The swing of activities around the globe should make the point: The deadly infection is best fought in different ways in different places.

This is a serious worldwide health crisis, and it requires the work of serious, dedicated people to make any dent at all in the continued outbreak of the disease.  Former President Clinton, through his foundation, has negotiated a deal with Indian drug companies for HIV/AIDS drugs to be distributed at a much-reduced cost.  This is a much-needed step in a nation where AIDS is on the upward curve, and where there is now more hope that it might be stopped before it goes ever higher and higher in number.  But more is needed.  Much, much more.

And still the band plays on…we must do better.