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World AIDS Day 2023: Envisioning a future of access

The day is filled with hope, education; is a tribute to resilience in ongoing battle against HIV/AIDS
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Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) has been another ray of hope, dramatically lowering the risk of HIV transmission. (OHSU/Christine Torres Hicks)
Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) has been another ray of hope, dramatically lowering the risk of HIV transmission. (OHSU/Christine Torres Hicks)

As we observe World AIDS Day on Dec. 1, it is a time for reflection and reaffirming our commitment to a cause that touches human lives deeply. Since 1988, this day has stood as a symbol of solidarity and hope in the ongoing battle against HIV/AIDS. It's a day to celebrate our incredible strides and recognize the challenges that still lie ahead.

Christopher Evans, M.D., smiling, is wearing a blue shirt, yellow tie and eyeglasses. (OHSU)
Christopher Evans, M.D. (OHSU)

In the 1980s, the world confronted HIV amid a climate of fear and uncertainty. The landscape of treatment was then in its early stages, offering limited options, and a diagnosis often came with a heavy heart and a sense of apprehension about the future. Today, thanks to relentless scientific endeavors, compassionate care and community advocacy, living with HIV has a very different meaning. Medications now offer viral suppression, turning HIV into a manageable chronic illness. This medical triumph has given rise to the Undetectable equals Untransmittable, or U=U, principle — a beacon of hope that has significantly reduced the stigma associated with HIV. Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) has been another ray of hope, dramatically lowering the risk of HIV transmission.

Julia Lager-Mesulam, LCSW, smiling and wearing a black shirt. (Courtesy)
Julia Lager-Mesulam, LCSW (Courtesy)

Yet as we celebrate these milestones, we must also acknowledge the remaining hurdles. The journey toward complete acceptance and equal health care access is ongoing. Despite our progress, individuals living with HIV still face discrimination, a barrier that not only hurts their dignity but also impedes their access to care. This inequality in health care is a blemish on our collective conscience, reminding us that our work is far from finished.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, "Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane." This powerful statement rings true in the context of HIV care, urging us as a medical community to champion the cause of equity and justice. At Oregon Health & Science University, we've embraced this call to action to provide holistic care beyond medical treatment to emotional and social support.

World AIDS Day is more than a memorial; it's a day filled with hope and education, and is a tribute to resilience. It is a day to honor the lives of those living with HIV and to remember those we have lost. It is also a celebration of the unyielding spirit of health care workers, case managers, social workers, insurance specialists, peers, researchers and advocates who have been the backbone of this fight since 1981 at OHSU and around the world.

As we commemorate this day, let us embrace each other with compassion and empathy. Let us renew our pledge to ensure that access to HIV testing, care and prevention is accessible to all; to break down the barriers of discrimination; and to reduce stigma associated with HIV. Let us envision a future where no one faces this battle alone, and everyone is treated with dignity.

For more information about HIV prevention, care, treatment and research at OHSU visit:

To learn more about Oregon’s effort to end new HIV infections in our lifetime, where to access testing, care and PrEP visit

Wishing you all a meaningful World AIDS Day!

Christopher Evans, M.D., M.P.H., AAHIVS, is lead physician for the Internal Medicine HIV Team at OHSU. Evans is also associate professor of medicine (general internal medicine and geriatrics, and infectious diseases) in the OHSU School of Medicine. Julia Lager-Mesulam, LCSW, is director of the OHSU Partnership Project.

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