Campaigners sang, lit candles and marched Wednesday as they observed World AIDS Day (search) by turning the spotlight on the need to protect women and girls, often sidelined in the fight against the disease.
"Today the face of AIDS is increasingly young and female," said Peter Piot, head of UNAIDS (search). "We will not be able to stop this epidemic unless we put women at the heart of the response to AIDS."
From Armenia to Zambia, concerts, marches and memorial services were being held to keep up the pressure against HIV/AIDS. Some 45 million people worldwide are infected with the HIV virus that leads to AIDS.
Much of the focus was on southern Africa, at the forefront of the pandemic (search), with speeches, marches and rallies.
The South African cricket team was showing its support for the fight against AIDS by wearing red ribbons — a symbol of the worldwide anti-AIDS movement — on their shirts during a match against India that was dedicated to the campaign.
Organizers of the cricket match were presenting red ribbons to spectators. Other events in India were organized to increase awareness of the disease.
"As we all know, South Africa is among the worst afflicted countries and we all have a responsibility to do something about it," skipper Graeme Smith told the South African Press Association from Calcutta, India.
Zambians gathered for a candlelight memorial service in the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in the capital, Lusaka.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair said the world shouldn't despair about helping Africa combat the disease.
"Part of the problem is that I think people get fatigued and tired with looking at Africa because it all seems so hopeless," Blair told British Broadcasting Corp. radio.
"It isn't. There are things that can be done and there are real success stories."
In Beijing, China's official launch of the day featured the All China Women Federation and China Youth League.
Criticized for its slow response to AIDS and for harassing health activists, the government also publicized efforts to slow the spread of the disease among prostitutes and intravenous drug users — the two highest-risk groups in China.
China says it has an estimated 840,000 people infected with the AIDS virus and 84,000 have the full-blown disease. UNAIDS has warned that the country could have as many as 10 million people infected by 2010 if it doesn't take urgent action.
In eastern Europe, where AIDS figures have jumped over the past decade, events in Armenia included a concert with well-known local artists.
In Serbia-Montenegro, where the number of infected people has risen sharply since the country's isolation in the 1990s, the day's events included live, on-air radio and television programs to increase awareness of how the disease spreads.
In Estonia, where 4,356 of the 1.4 million residents are HIV positive, the biggest event is a concert titled "Open Your Eyes," which will be held at the Kaarli Church, in the capital, Tallinn.
Portugal, which has one of the highest rates of new AIDS infections in western Europe, opened the new headquarters of an association to support AIDS patients. Portuguese artists also donated works of art for an auction to raise money.
Danish observers were gathering in a downtown Copenhagen square to light one candle for each of the 1,800 people who have died of AIDS in Denmark.
Piot was speaking at the United Nations' commemorative event hosted by actors Gloria Reuben and Alan Cumming at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City, featuring singer Mary Wilson and South Africa's Sinikithemba Choir.
"The number of women living with HIV (search) is on the rise in every region," Piot said. "Prevention methods such as the ABC approach—Abstinence, Be faithful and use Condoms — are good, but not enough to protect women where gender inequality is pervasive.
"We must be able to ensure that women can choose marriage, to decide when and with whom they have sex and to successfully negotiate condom use."