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Features
"Never forget": Maryan Street MP marks Candlelight 2008
By Maryan Street MP
15th May 2008 - 09:39 am

Maryan Street MP will attend Candlelight in Wellington this Sunday, while Chris Carter MP attends the Auckland event.
Like many of you, I will be attending one of hundreds of events organised around the globe over the next week to mark the 25th anniversary of the AIDS Candlelight Memorial.

Memorial services will be held this weekend in Auckland, Hamilton, Tauranga, Christchurch, Dunedin, Invercargill and the Wellington Town Hall, where I plan to be.

This year's official opening ceremony will be held in Lilongwe, Malawi, one of several sub-Saharan African countries hard hit by this disease. The first of these 25th anniversary events will be held here in New Zealand.

The International AIDS Candlelight Memorial began in 1983 when a few men in San Francisco decided to hold a memorial and march to bring public attention to a mysterious disease that was causing early and unexplained deaths. Over the years, the Candlelight Memorial spread beyond the United States. In 2007, the Candlelight Memorial was commemorated by small and large groups in more than 1,500 events held in 119 countries, including Malawi.

The memorial is one of the oldest and largest worldwide events focused on HIV/AIDS awareness and advocacy and this year's theme is Never Give Up, Never Forget.

There are 33 million people estimated to be infected worldwide. The Candlelight Memorial has a number of important functions including highlighting the need for strong working relationships between NGOs and governments, working to break down social barriers, and giving hope to future generations.

The services are an important time to remember friends and loved ones who have passed away. They are also a reminder of how many people are living with HIV/Aids on a daily basis.

Here in New Zealand I believe our communities, and the gay male community in particular, need to think a little harder about the Never Forget theme - because I think our greatest current concern is our own complacency. Honouring those who have died surely must involve learning from their experiences?

156 people were diagnosed with HIV through antibody testing in New Zealand in 2007. The largest group - 71 - were infected through sex with other men, and the next largest group - 60 - through heterosexual contact. An additional 39 people with HIV infection, who had not had an antibody test here, had their first viral load test in New Zealand in this period. These were mainly people who had been previously diagnosed overseas. Of these, 15 were infected through sex with men. A total of 31 people were notifed with AIDS in 2007, 12 of whom were infected through sex with other men.

The number of people newly diagnosed with HIV infection last year was a little down on the previous two years, but similar to 2004 figures.

If rates of undiagnosed HIV are similar to those in comparable countries - 25 to 30% - then the Ministry of Health estimates there are about 1,500 people living with HIV in New Zealand.

Since the early 1990s the survival of people with HIV has improved markedly due to advances in antiretroviral therapy. This is, of course, a great relief. What it also means however is that, together with new infections, the prevalence of HIV infection in our communities is likely to continue to rise, which in turn increases the likelihood of new infections.

Statistics show the typical man infected by another man is a Pakeha in his 40s, living in Auckland. It is worrying that despite a considerable number of information and awareness campaigns within the gay community, the number of gay men contracting HIV has failed to decline.

Perhaps our community has become inured to the messages, perhaps the improved treatment available has made people more complacent. But we must not forget that people are still dying of AIDS. One death is a death too many.

We had this almost under control in the 90s through persistent and targeted campaigns. We can do it again.



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