World AIDS Day @30: Remembering, Knowing & Caring
World AIDS Day was founded by James W. Bunn and Thomas Netter in 1987 and they agreed that the first observance should be on December 1. Bunn was a broadcast journalist and Netter was a frequent contributor to the New York Times in the 1980’s. They were the first public information officers of the World Health Organization’s Global Program on AIDS. Their work drew attention to the AIDS pandemic, helped alleviate some of the stigma, and helped underscore the threat of HIV to people of all ages, genders and sexual orientations. World AIDS Day has been commemorated on December 1 since 1988, making 2018 its 30th anniversary.
On this day, we remember those lost to AIDS-related illnesses. According to UNAIDS, we have lost 35.4 million people since the start of the pandemic and we lost 940,000 people due to AIDS-related illnesses in 2017. Let us remember, light a candle, say their names.
The global theme this World AIDS Day is “Know Your Status.” According to UNAIDS, only 75% of people living with HIV are aware of their status. This means that 9.4 million people aren’t aware they are HIV positive and therefore seeking medical care. Since the start of the pandemic, 77.3 million people have become infected with HIV. It makes all the difference in the world for everyone to know their status.
World AIDS Day allows people to show their support and care for those living with HIV and to unite in the fight against HIV and AIDS. It is critical to remember that we are not fighting against those who live with HIV, rather we fight the stigma still associated with this disease and we work to ensure that more people get access to the life-saving antiretroviral therapy. According to UNAIDS, in 2017, 21.7 million people living with HIV were accessing antiretroviral therapy which was an increase of 2.3 million people from 2016 and up from 8 million people in 2010. So, thanks to the work of global health programs and grassroots local clinics, 13.7 million more people are receiving antiretroviral care.
World AIDS Day is global and local. Since 2002, Breaking Boundaries has been bringing the AIDS Memorial Quilt to Idaho Falls, Idaho. This year the exhibit is being hosted by the Elks Lodge. Holly Frazier, a health teacher at Taylorview Middle School brings her eighth graders to see the Quilt. Frazier says, “I want them to put a face to the disease. I want them to know that HIV happens to moms, dads, grandparents, kids, everyone.” We’re grateful for Holly Frazier and the millions of people like her around the world who bring World AIDS Day home where we live and can find new ways to care about each other. We are all children of God and one human family.