Why We March: Reflections on World AIDS Day 2013

A great deal has changed since the World Health Organization first came up with the idea of World AIDS day in 1987. An HIV-diagnosis is no longer a death sentence, HIV-positive mothers can give birth to HIV-negative babies, and discordant couples can have fulfilling and healthy long-term relationships. However, despite these gains, there’s still a lot of work do. World AIDS Day is a powerful reminder of how far we’ve come, but also of the long and challenging road that remains before us.

On December 1st, I had the privilege of representing my placement organization, Afya Mzuri, at the World AIDS Day March here in Lusaka. As I marched with my colleagues, I found myself profoundly moved by a sense of community and hope. I heard marchers sing songs about the dangers of unprotected sex, the importance of VCT (voluntary counseling and testing), and the life-saving potential of anti-retroviral therapies, while dancing along Great East Road in Lusaka. Their joyfulness and honesty in the face of a daunting pandemic that continues to kill people daily was nothing short of awe-inspiring.

I spend a lot of time writing and doing research. In the milieu of spreadsheets and requests for proposals that defines a significant part of my day-to day work, I’ll admit that sometimes I lose sight of the big picture.  Participating in the World AIDS Day activities with my coworkers and the broader Zambian community reminded me of how amazing it is to be part of a movement for health equity.


We are currently winning the battle against HIV and AIDS, but challenges related to stigma and discrimination persist.  Worlds AIDS Day is important not only because it raises awareness, but also because it provides an opportunity for health activists, governments, civil society organizations, private companies,  and individuals, around the world to come together and renew their commitment to achieving a zero generation. The fight against HIV and AIDS will not be won in clinics and laboratories. The success of prevention and treatment strategies depends entirely on cross-sectoral and interdisciplinary partnerships and collaboration. Celebrations like World AIDS Day are both a call to action and a reminder that public health is a COMMUNITY ISSUE, which impacts each and every one of us.