PORTLAND, Maine — AIDS is one of the greatest public health challenges in the 21st century.
The epidemic's impacts around the world are staggering. Since its start in the 80s, the World Health Organization estimates more than 40 million people have died of HIV.
The agency also said more than 38 million people worldwide were living with HIV last year, with regions in Africa remaining the most severely affected.
Thursday night, communities across Maine took time to remember and honor all the lives impacted by the epidemic.
A candlelight vigil was held in Portland's Monument Square.
"I knew hundreds and hundreds of people, fabulous people, talented, brilliant people who died of AIDS,” Deborah Sheilds, who attended the vigil in Portland, said. "I started doing AIDS-related work back in the late 90s when there was not a lot of help."
Shields told NEWS CENTER Maine she's thankful for the progress made in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
“I think the exciting thing now for HIV is we can treat it with one pill once a day,” Stephen Rawlings MD, Ph.D., director of MaineHealth's Gilman Clinic, said.
Rawlings explained, with today’s medicine, people living with the virus can live long, healthy lives.
"For the most part, it transitions to a disease kind of like diabetes," Rawlings added. You know, take your medicine every day, watch your health and everything will be pretty normal.”
In addition to Portland, Health Equity Alliance in Bangor recognized World AIDS Day with a gathering 304 Hancock Street.
People were invited for food and gallery displays of the history of HIV and AIDS.