World AIDS Day

World AIDS Day

Between 1981 and 2007, some 25 million people lost their lives to AIDS. Five years ago, over 33 million people were thought to be living with HIV, and two million died worldwide in the same year, making HIV/AIDS one of the severest epidemics on record.

Observed globally on December 1 every year, although it is not a public holiday, World AIDS Day has become one of the best-known international health days. Its aim is to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS, honor and remember those who have died from the disease, and commemorate progress, such as better access to prevention and treatment services.

This day is now the longest-established disease prevention and awareness drives of its kind.

Two public information officers at the Geneva-based World Health Organization first came up with the idea in 1987, and the first World AIDS Day was held on December 1 the following year.

The day was decided because 1988 was election year in the US, and December 1 was long enough after the election but still far enough from the Christmas holiday to secure maximum media coverage.

Since 1996, the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) has had responsibility for promoting and planning the day. In 1997, the World AIDS Campaign, now an independent organization in its own right, was created to concentrate on education, prevention and communication all year round, rather than focusing on a single day.

Since 2008, the campaign’s Global Steering Committee has chosen the day’s theme, following extensive and wide-ranging consultation. Themes may run for one year or longer.

Past ones have included youth, children and women and girls living with AIDS, stigma and discrimination, along with human rights. Between 2005 and 2008, the theme was Stop AIDS – Keep the Promise, to urge leaders to meet their commitment to universal access to HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment, care, and support.

In 2012, the theme focuses on Working Together for an AIDS-Free Generation. Overarching that, between 2011-2015, World AIDS Days will take the banner “Getting to zero: zero new HIV infections. Zero discrimination. Zero AIDS related deaths”.

Some countries hold AIDS Awareness Months, often in December, to coincide with the day.

The president of the United States issues a proclamation every World Aids Day, and, in recent years, both the current and past popes have sent patients and doctors special messages.

Since 2007, World AIDS Day has been marked in Washington with a huge ribbon displayed on the North Portico of the White House.

Events are held across the world on December 1, often to honor someone who has died from an AIDS-related condition. For instance, the AIDS Memorial Quilt project has panels made by friends and relatives of someone who has lost their life to the disease, and the quilt is exhibited across the US.

It’s also a day when many people choose to wear a red ribbon, one of the most widely recognised HIV/AIDS symbols.  Originally designed as a badge, the ribbon is now often worn in many different ways.