There’s a general sense, even among informed progressives, that the AIDS epidemic has been arrested and no longer represents the vast problem it once did. This may be true for the affluent — the vast majority of people with HIV and AIDS live in lower- and middle-income countries and/or are poor in rich nations. But HIV remains a threat to men, women and children on all continents around the world.

According to UNAIDS estimates, there are still 33.3 million people living with HIV, including at least 2.5 million children. Moreover, during 2009 some 2.6 million people became newly infected with the virus and an estimated 1.8 million people died from AIDS. Highlighting these horrific numbers and reminding people that there are many things still to be done is the point of World AIDS Day, marked each year on December 1.

The theme for this year’s 12th annual World AIDS Day is ‘Universal Access and Human Rights.’ The protection of human rights is fundamental to combating the global HIV and AIDS epidemic. Violations against human rights fuel the spread of HIV, putting marginalized groups, like injecting drug users and sex workers, at a higher risk of HIV infection. By promoting individual human rights, new infections can be prevented and people who have HIV can live free from discrimination.

This video, produced by AVERT, powerfully makes the case.

Global leaders have pledged to work towards universal access to HIV and AIDS treatment, prevention and care, recognising these as fundamental human rights, and valuable progress has been made in increasing access to HIV and AIDS services globally. Yet much greater commitment is needed around the world if the goal of universal access is to be achieved, which is what it will take to save millions of innocent lives.

That’s what this year’s World AIDS Day is about — making sure that the issue stays on the world agenda with rampant climate change, global un-employment and dozens of armed conflicts commanding our attention.

There are numerous groups you can join, support and from which you can find valuable resources to help spread the word and work of the AIDS movement:

AVERT, an international HIV and AIDS charity based in the UK, is working to avert HIV and AIDS worldwide, through education, treatment and care.

The Student Stop AIDS Societies is composed of students at universities and colleges, primarily in the UK, who are part of the broad coalition of NGOs which make up the Stop AIDS Campaign, and which work to bring about changes in national and international policies which can turn the tide on the spread of HIV and minimize its devastating impact on people and communities around the world.

The World AIDS Campaign offers a toolkit to promote the World AIDS Day theme of universal access and human rights and a good events calendar for you to find actions in your area tomorrow.