Lighting сandles, honoring memory: International AIDS Candlelight Memorial

The International AIDS Candlelight Memorial is a global initiative aimed at raising awareness about HIV/AIDS, commemorating those who have lost their lives to the disease, and advocating for policy changes to combat the epidemic. Held annually on the third Sunday of May, it is one of the oldest and largest grassroots mobilization campaigns for HIV awareness worldwide. On this important day, Virusoff honors the memory of everyone who fought AIDS and expresses its support to everyone who continues this fight.

Eastern Europe and Central Asia (EECA) face significant challenges in the fight against HIV/AIDS. The region has one of the fastest-growing HIV epidemics globally, with new infections rising each year. The primary mode of transmission is through injecting drug use, unprotected sex among key populations, and inadequate access to healthcare services. As of the latest data, there are approximately 1.7 million people living with HIV in EECA. In 2020, the region saw about 170,000 new HIV infections and 35,000 AIDS-related deaths. People who inject drugs (PWID) constitute about 48% of the new infections, with other significantly affected groups including men who have sex with men (MSM), sex workers, and prisoners. Only about 50% of people living with HIV in EECA are receiving antiretroviral therapy (ART), which is crucial for managing the disease and preventing transmission. Late diagnosis remains a significant problem as many people discover their status when HIV or AIDS is in an advanced stage. Russia accounts for a significant proportion of the region’s HIV burden, with alone accounting for around 70% of new infections in the region.

Stigma against people living with HIV (PLHIV) and key populations (such as PWID and MSM) is pervasive in EECA, hindering efforts to promote testing, treatment, and prevention. Restrictive laws and policies in several countries impede harm reduction programs like needle exchange and opioid substitution therapy. Criminalization of drug use and homosexuality further exacerbates the vulnerability of key populations. International funding for HIV programs in the region has decreased, and domestic funding often falls short of what is needed to sustain comprehensive HIV responses.

In EECA, the International AIDS Candlelight Memorial plays a critical role by raising awareness about the ongoing HIV crisis, advocating for policy changes, better funding, and the protection of human rights. The memorial events also serve as a poignant reminder of the lives lost to HIV/AIDS, fostering solidarity and support within communities. They often include educational components aimed at reducing stigma and informing the public about HIV prevention and treatment options. Through these efforts, the memorial contributes to the global fight against HIV/AIDS, striving for a future where the epidemic is no longer a threat to public health and human dignity.