An additional 1.1 million have been infected and are living with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. The disease has disproportionately affected blacks, men who have sex with men, and young people.
Recent medical breakthroughs may provide the strongest weapon against the disease. A study of healthy gay men who took an anti-AIDS pill daily yielded encouraging results - they were 44 percent less likely to get infected with HIV.
But more funding is needed to continue research projects that could one day save lives. There must also be more aggressive outreach, such as the campaign by black clergy in Philadelphia to encourage testing to prevent those already infected from unknowingly spreading the disease.
In New Jersey, the Legislature should pass a bill that would allow for the sale of needles in pharmacies without a prescription. More than 40 percent of all HIV/AIDS cases in the state have been attributed to the sharing of contaminated needles.
New Jersey and Delaware are the only states with a complete ban on over-the-counter sale of syringes in pharmacies, according to the Drug Policy Alliance.
Allowing the sales would complement the state's successful needle-exchange programs in five cities, including Camden, which have distributed needles to more than 6,000 people in the last three years.
Those at risk for HIV/AIDS or hepatitis C, who may be less likely to visit a clinic to get clean needles, could take a more proactive step to protect themselves.
On this World AIDS Day, there is renewed reason to hope for a cure. Then, Dec. 1 could be just another day on the calendar.