A ceremony was held to commemorate World AIDS Day in Library Square last Monday culminating in the switching on of the Christmas tree lights.
Throughout the day there was a donation-based cake sale as well as the opportunity to sign the “Push for the pool” petition, which demands access to essential HIV treatment for all by 2010.
Simon Fanshawe, chair of University Council, opened the proceedings with a short introductory speech, followed by three speakers from USSU, UNISEX and Chris Ward from the Stop AIDS campaign.
World AIDS Day is an annual event held on December 1 to raise awareness of HIV and AIDS. The issue is of particular local importance as Brighton holds the 2nd highest rate of HIV infection outside London and last year the number of people in Brighton and Hove accessing NHS services for HIV/AIDS increased by 16%.
The theme of this years World AIDS day was ‘Respect and Protect’ and during her speech the UNISEX
representative emphasised the “responsibility of everyone to stand up against HIV and AIDS in justice and inequality; to take care of our families, our friends and lovers as well as strangers on the other side of the world.”
Chris Ward from the Stop AIDS campaign talked about his time working in an HIV clinic in South Africa and the need to campaign “to make treatment and universal access to treatment a reality the world over.” He also criticised big pharmaceutical companies for their role in the crisis.
The speakers presented some shocking statistics: 10 people per minute contract HIV, the majority of whom do not have access to the treatment they need. Between 2000 and 2006 there has been an 83% increase in the number of HIV/AIDS cases in Great Britain and last year in Sub-Saharan Africa 2.1 million people died as result of HIV and AIDS. “Around the world people with HIV still face prejudice and discrimination,” said the UNISEX speaker. “Vulnerable groups at risk of HIV infection continue to be marginalised, isolated and persecuted, denied access to the education and basic human rights that could change their circumstances.” She ended by thanking UNISEX members, the University, the Union and students for their continued support and commitment to the issue.
Following the speeches, Mr. Fanshawe switched on the Christmas tree lights. The Christmas tree is donated each year by the University grounds maintenance contractor Wyevale and comes from a sustainable farm where trees are grown and replanted especially to be used at Christmas.
Rows of red jars were laid out in the shape of a ribbon and during a song from the University choir, gatherers were invited to light candles to commemorate the 33 million people who are HIV positive around the world. The event closed with mulled wine and mince pies served in the Meeting House.