World AIDS Day recognized with candlelight vigil in Hillcrest

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SAN DIEGO — The 28th annual Tree of Life Candlelight Vigil and Tree Lighting Ceremony commemorating people who have died from AIDS was held Sunday evening at the Village Hillcrest Retail Center on World AIDS Day.

A large holiday tree was decorated with ornaments honoring those who have been affected by AIDS and HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, and will remain on display throughout the Christmas season at Village Hillcrest.

Hundreds of candles were lit throughout the event to remember those who have died from AIDS. Members of the Gay Men’s Chorus of San Diego sung holiday songs throughout the ceremony.

The free event ran from 6 to 7 p.m. and included a display of AIDS quilts.

A record 37.9 million people worldwide were living with HIV in 2018, according to UNAIDS, the joint United Nations program on HIV/AIDS, whose figures date back to 2000. The previous record was 36.9 million in 2017.

There were around 1.7 million new HIV infections diagnosed in 2018, compared to 1.8 million in 2017 and 2.9 million at the epidemic’s peak in 1997.

A record 23.3 million people with HIV were accessing antiretrovial therapy in 2018, topping the previous record of 21.7 million in 2017 and 7.7 million in 2010.

World AIDS Day was founded in 1988, the first international day for global health. This year’s theme is “Communities Make the Difference,” recognizing the essential role communities have played and continue to play in the AIDS response at the international, national and local levels.

Communities include peer educators, networks of people living with or affected by HIV, such as gay men and other men who have sex with men, people who inject drugs and sex workers, women and young people, counselors, community health workers, door-to-door service providers, civil society organizations and grass-roots activists.

In his World AIDS Day proclamation, President Donald Trump declared, “Our nation unites on World AIDS Day to show support for people living with” HIV and AIDS. “We also pause to solemnly remember those worldwide who have lost their lives to HIV and AIDS-related illnesses.

“As we mourn this tragic loss of life, we acknowledge the remarkable advancements in medical care, treatment, acceptance, and understanding surrounding the virus.  While admirable progress has been made, it is not enough, and we must continue to work toward a vaccine and a cure.

“On World AIDS Day, we are reminded that no challenge can defeat the unyielding American spirit.  As a nation, we must come together to remove the stigma surrounding HIV and to address disparities facing people living with this disease.

“Our success is contingent upon collaboration across all levels of government here in the United States and around the world, community interaction and outreach to people with HIV and at-risk populations and a citizenry motivated by compassion for the suffering of humankind and hope for the future.

“Together, we will continue to make progress in our efforts to find a cure for HIV/AIDS and to ensure that all Americans live healthier and happier lives.”

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