World AIDS Day is one of the eleven official global public health campaigns marked by the World Health Organization.
It is an international day dedicated to raising awareness of the AIDS pandemic caused by the spread of HIV infection. It’s an opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV, to show support for people living with HIV, and to commemorate those who have died from an AIDS-related illness.
Since 1988, December 1st is designated as World AIDS Day. It was the first ever global health day, that was conceived by James W. Bunn and Thomas Netter, two public information officers for the Global Programme on AIDS at the World Health Organization in Geneva, Switzerland. Bunn and Netter took their idea to Dr. Jonathan Mann, Director of the Global Programme on AIDS (now known as UNAIDS).
In its first two years, the theme of World AIDS Day focused on children and young people. While the choice of this theme was criticized at the time by some for ignoring the fact that people of all ages may become infected with HIV, the theme helped alleviate some of the stigma surrounding the disease and boost recognition of the problem as a family disease. The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) became operational in 1996, and it took over the planning and promotion of World AIDS Day. Rather than focus on a single day, UNAIDS created the World AIDS Campaign in 1997 to focus on year-round communications, prevention and education. In 2004, the World AIDS Campaign became an independent organization.
Approximately 38 million people live with HIV/AIDS across the globe. Despite the virus only being identified in 1984, more than 35 million people have died of HIV or AIDS, making it one of the most destructive pandemics in history. A large number of grassroots, national and international agencies and organizations have been involved in the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS and we are happy to see in the statistics that HIV/AIDS cases have dropped.
Today, scientific advances have been made in HIV treatment, there are laws to protect people living with HIV and scientists understand so much more about the condition and World AIDS Day is important because it reminds the public and government that HIV has not gone away – there is still a vital need to raise money, increase awareness, fight prejudice and improve education.
This year has been very difficult with COVID-19 pandemic however countries have also introduced a number of effective adaptations and innovations in service delivery during COVID-19. These include:
• In many countries in sub-Saharan Africa, testing for COVID-19 has heavily relied on the laboratory systems built and developed by HIV and TB programs. Devices have been shared across programs as well as infrastructure, sample transport systems, and highly skilled staff.
• In Thailand, PrEP services have been delivered through key population led health services providing multi-month dispensing, telehealth, Xpress service, self-sampling, and counseling.
• In Bulgaria, a demonstration project showed strong community demand for HIV self-testing which also led to expansion of testing services to reduce inequalities between rural and urban areas.
Together to eliminate HIV/AIDS
On this day everyone is encouraged to get tested, know their status and help fight and achieve zero transmission by 2030.
Let’s take a moment to thank all those involved in the fight against HIV/AIDS-doctors, nurses, scientists, community workers and all the others.
Ending the article with a quote by Dr Meg Doherty, Director of WHO’s Department of Global HIV, Hepatitis and STI Programmes:
“On World AIDS Day 2020, we pay tribute to the communities and countries who have shown resilience and innovation – often spearheaded by people themselves living with HIV, this is vital, because while we focus on fighting this new pandemic, we must not drop our guard on a twin pandemic that has been with us for 40 years and which is far from over.”