education, health, Human rights, thailand, Volunteering

Stop Where You Are

“Stop where you are
Under fading stars
This is the world we’ve made
There is no better place, it’s true
Light a fire where you are”

(“Stop Where You Are” by Corinne Bailey Rae (2016))

December 1st. The first day of the last month of the year. The beginning of advent. And World AIDS Day. In previous years the significance of this day has unknowingly passed me by. It’s no wonder really, having lived most of my life in New Zealand, Australia and the UK, countries relatively low AIDS rates. Similarly, based on previous stats the majority of people reading this blog are from countries with comparable prevalence. This year, World AIDS Day has more meaning for me, as I am volunteering with an organisation whose health team supports people with HIV and Aids.

AIDS is a global issue, with an estimated 36.7 million people living with the disease worldwide (see regional infographic below). This year’s campaign advocates the ‘right to health’, inline with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals to achieve universal health coverage and end AIDS by 2030.

Number of people living with HIV 2016

At a commemorative event at school, we learnt about AIDS and also remembered the victims and those currently living with the disease. In Thailand and Myanmar, while rates of HIV infection are declining, there are still approximately 450,000 and 230,000 people respectively living with AIDS, with new cases each year. It disproportionately affects different groups within society, with young adults and adolescents often more at risk. There are also often higher rates within migrant populations, with higher rates in the fishing industry (jobs which are often done by migrants) compared with other industries such as farming and construction.

To reduce the spread of AIDS, effective education is needed to raise awareness around how you can become infected with HIV. My fellow volunteer in Ranong touches on this in her recent World Aids Day blog. There is also much stigma and discrimination associated with AIDS, which prejudice and abuse often experienced by people living with the disease. This ranges from being scorned within workplaces, educational facilities and communities to being refused healthcare. This in itself is horrible, but it can also prevent people seeking treatment, which can proliferate the disease. Education has a role in helping to dissolve myths around the spread of AIDS.

A mural and posters around the school for World AIDS Day

This event prompted me to recall some of the prejudices present in society and the treatment of people who are perceived as different. Discrimination against race, gender, religion or sexual orientation, towards migrants and refugees, people with health issues or disabilities or those simply living life differently. In many places around the world, December becomes dominated with Christmas preparations, with a focus on over-indulgence of food and drink and gift-giving. This December, I’d love it if we replaced this consumerist atmosphere with instead trying to spread a bit more kindness, compassion and acceptance in our corner of the world. To reach out to those who may be experiencing exclusion, prejudice or rejection for whatever reason. In Corinne Bailey Rae’s words, wherever you are this December, “Light a fire where you are”. Because it is these small acts of kindness that have the power to turn stigma into love and help turn the tide on diseases such as AIDS.

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