Nationwide  – Today is World AIDS Day, and people around the world are doubling down on prevention efforts, and remembering lives lost.

More than 36 million people live with HIV worldwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But since the pandemic peaked in 2005, AIDS-related deaths have been reduced by nearly half.

Robert Wyrod, an assistant professor at CU Boulder and author of the book “AIDS and Masculinity in the African City,” spent a decade researching AIDS in Uganda.

“There’s a lot of optimism that we’ve turned a corner and that globally, we’re headed in the right direction to eventually really reduce the amount of HIV and AIDS in the world, maybe even in the next decade,” he says.

At the end of 2015, more than 13,000 Coloradans were living with HIV or AIDS, and cases continue to decline.

Wyrod says successful education campaigns, along with the availability of anti-HIV medicines, are largely responsible for curbing a disease that still claimed one million lives globally in 2016.

Wyrod also cautions that despite advances, significant challenges remain. He notes gender inequality and the power to make decisions – for example, whether to use a condom – continue to affect infection rates.

“Ideas about what it means to be a man, and the privileges that men generally have in the world – especially around issues of controlling sex, and dictating the terms of sex – play an important role in how HIV is transmitted,” he explains.

Nearly 20 million people are now receiving critical anti-retroviral treatment globally. While Wyrod praises medical advances, he warns drugs alone are not a “magic bullet,” and won’t resolve what he sees as some of the prime drivers of the disease. Wyrod points out many poor, urban areas in the U.S. continue to experience epidemics as serious as in some African nations.

“There’s a lot of optimism, but we can’t kind of take our eye off the ball of how social inequality – whether it’s racism or classism or homophobia – are a big part of the story of the global AIDS pandemic,” he adds.

Planned Parenthood offers HIV testing year-round at all of its facilities, and tests are free Friday at the group’s Colorado Springs, Greeley, and Salida health centers. Jefferson County Public Health is also offering free testing at its clinic in Lakewood.

Eric Galatas/Shaine Smith, Public News Service