AIDS is one of the most destructive pandemics in history and, every year on the 1st December, World AIDS Day aims to raise awareness about this global issue. It presents the world with a chance to unite and stand up to this vicious disease. To show support for those living with HIV and AIDS and to remember those who have died, people are encouraged to wear a red ribbon in support.

In 1988, World AIDS Day became the first ever internationally recognised health day and was conceived to raise awareness about the growing AIDS pandemic that was first clinically observed in the US in 1981.


A brief history of HIV and AIDS


Researchers and physicians observe unexplained cases of enlarged lymph nodes amongst homosexual men.


Michael Gottlieb and Joel Weisman record five cases of Pneumocystis Carinii Pneumonia in gay males, which is usually only found in immunosuppressed patients.


159 cases of the new disease are recorded in the USA.


The Centre for Disease Control (CDC) coins the term Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) and highlights four “risk factors”, including male homosexuality, Haemophilia A, intravenous drug use and Haitian origin.


There is a major outbreak of AIDS in central Africa. Men and women are both affected.


Female sexual partners of men with AIDS are added to the CDC’s list of risk groups.


French doctors Francoise Barr-Sinoussi and Luc Montagnier isolate a retrovirus from an AIDS patient and label it the Lymphadenopathy-associated Virus (LAV).


Several countries, including the USA, issue recommendations for preventing HIV transmission.


AIDS has now been reported in 33 countries.


Scientists confirm that a new retrovirus, Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), is the cause of AIDS.


The AIDS Medical Foundation hands out its initial eighteen research grants.


The HIV antibody test is licensed.


AIDS has now been reported in 51 countries and on every continent except Antarctica.


The Institute of Medicine in the USA carries out its first report on AIDS and claims that an additional $2bn per year is needed for care and research.


HIV-2 is discovered among commercial sex workers in Western Africa.


AZT is the first approved anti-HIV drug and becomes the most expensive drug in history, costing $10,000 for a year’s supply.

The UKs “AIDS:Don’t Die of Ignorance” Campaign started


Research suggests that almost all cases of untreated HIV will eventually lead to AIDS.


Studies indicate that sterile syringes and needle exchanges can significantly reduce HIV infection rates among drug users.


The World Health Organisation designates the 1st December as World AIDS Day.


amfAR’s Community-Based Clinical Trials (CBCT) and other similar sponsored research programs are established.


In Kenya, the first international AIDS prevention workshop takes place.


Nearly twice as many Americans have now died from AIDS as died in the Vietnam conflict.


As a symbol of hope in the battle against AIDS, the red ribbon is introduced.


The World Health Organisation estimates that nearly 10 million people worldwide are infected with HIV.


Combination Antiretroviral Therapy is clinically trialled for the first time.


The CDC re-categorises the AIDS definition to include new infections, cervical cancer and HIV-positive patients with lower T-cell counts.


Tom Hanks wins an Academy Award for his portrayal of a homosexual man with AIDS in “Philadelphia” and the film becomes one of the first mainstream Hollywood productions to acknowledge HIV and AIDS.


George Shaw and David Ho discover that HIV cells in the human body replicate and produce billions of new copies every day.


AIDS has now become the leading cause of death for Americans between the ages of 25 and 44.


For the first time ever, combination therapy is made available to AIDS patients, which leads to a considerable decline in AIDS-related deaths.


UNAIDS, the Joint United Nations Programme on AIDS, is set-up to respond to the global pandemic.


The FDA approves the first home HIV test.


The UN estimates that 22.6 million people are HIV-positive worldwide and that 6.4 million people have now died of AIDS.


AIDS patients now live longer as a result of new anti-HIV therapies, known as drug “cocktails”.


The first 3D images of HIV attaching to the surface of immune cells are produced.


Experts express concern over Lipodystrophy and other side effects of anti-HIV drugs.


In more than 27 countries, HIV infection rates have doubled since 1996.


Over 95% of those with HIV and that have died of AIDS live in the developing world.


At least half of all new infections around the world occur among under-25s.


UNAIDS collaborates with major pharmaceutical companies to reduce AIDS drug prices in poorer countries.


The Millennium Summit of the United Nations agrees the Millennium Development Goals, to be achieved by 2015: which includes by 2015 to reverse the spread of HIV and have universal access to treatment for all those who need it.

The 13th International AIDS Conference in South Africa alerts the world to the sub-Saharan African explosion of HIV and AIDS, where victims have little to no access to appropriate treatment.


Since the pandemic began, over 13 million children have lost a parent and nearly 22 million people have died because of AIDS.


An emergency UN assembly is held to intensify the fight against AIDS and mobilise resources more quickly.


AIDS groups commemorate the 20th anniversary of the unrelenting pandemic.


AIDS is now officially the leading cause of death worldwide for those aged between 15 and 59.


Women now comprise half of all adults living with HIV and AIDS.


The “finger prick” Rapid HIV-1 Antibody Test is approved.


US President George Bush announces a new five-year, $15 billion initiative to fight HIV and AIDS, particularly in the Caribbean and Africa.


UNAIDS and WHO aim to provide antiretroviral treatment to 3 million people by 2005.


The FDA approves a new rapid HIV testing kit that can produce results in as little as 20 minutes with 99% accuracy.


The UN warns of a growing AIDS epidemic in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.


Bing Chen and Rosa Cardoso achieve separate breakthroughs that could lead to the discovery of an AIDS vaccine.


1.3 million people are now receiving HIV antiretroviral treatment worldwide.


40 million people are living with HIV around the world.


The world’s first single pill anti-HIV drug, to be taken once a day, is approved.


The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria increases the number of patients on ARVs.


Nolwenn Jouvenet makes history by filming the birth of HIV virus particles.


Francoise Barr-Sinoussi and Luc Montagnier are awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine for their discovery of HIV.


The story of “the Berlin Patient”, who was cured of HIV after a risky stem-cell transplant and receiving CCR5 HIV-blocking cells, is first reported.


In the USA, long term bans on syringe exchange program funding and HIV-positive travel are lifted.


The number of people in low- and middle-income countries receiving HIV and AIDS treatment reaches a record high of 5.25 million. Universal access remains a long-term goal.


Interest in the search for a HIV and AIDS cure intensifies, as various bodies plan their own initiatives.


A new study shows that antiretroviral therapy can limit the transmission of HIV by 96%.


Two primary approaches are now being pursued in an effort to find a HIV cure: HIV immunity through gene therapy and stripping HIV from human DNA to have it destroyed by the immune system.

[Data sourced from amfAR]

Where are we up to in the fight against HIV and AIDS?

This brings us up to the present day. amfAR estimates gauge that the international pandemic is affecting around 35 million people, 3.3 million of whom are under the age of fifteen. This means that, since the beginning of the outbreak back in 1981, 75 million people have contracted HIV and AIDS.

In 2013, even with the scientific and economic advances we have made worldwide, there are still 6,300 people contracting the disease every single day, which equates to around 262 people every hour. This is indicative of the fact that, despite all of the aforementioned research and good work, we are still a considerable way from solving this global problem.

Although the HIV virus is manageable through drugs and medication, there are many people in the developing world that still can’t acquire this kind of treatment. have found that 97% of those living with HIV reside in low- and middle-income countries, particularly those in sub-Saharan Africa, and they simply do not have access to the requisite prevention, care or treatment. HIV and AIDS don’t just affect the individual victims though; there is a considerable knock-on effect on households, communities and national economic development. The sort of countries where this is a major problem also show a tendency to suffer from other infectious diseases and food shortages, so the issues caused by and amplified by HIV and AIDS are substantial.

However, even in these kinds of locations, the signs are not all negative. The Kaiser Family Foundation recently reported that, while Sub-Saharan Africa may be the “hardest hit region” on the planet, there are indications that the situation is gradually improving. These countries are home to 71% of people living with HIV but only 12% of the world’s population. The adult prevalence rate of HIV here is, at 4.7%, the highest in the world, but these figures are now “stabilising or even declining in many countries in the region”.

One of the main reasons that we are seeing these positive changes in recent years is due to the growing influence of ART, or antiretroviral therapy. The World Health Organisation reports that ART has had a massive impact on the pandemic as a whole and, by the end of last year, 9.7 million people were receiving it. That represents a 20% rise (1.6 million) compared to the figure recorded twelve months earlier and the overall number is projected to climb to 15 million by 2015.

The World Health Organisation, in collaboration with UNAIDS and UNICEF, has also reported on fresh guidelines that will considerably improve the availability of ART and these recent advancements, while ambitious, are exceptionally promising. The revised strategies will increase ART availability from 16.7 to 25.9 million people, which represents a monumental effort and a 55% growth. The immunological criteria for initiating antiretroviral therapy have been widened since they were last assessed in 2010 and the improvement in availability is a result of these changes. For example, there was no specific provision of ART for pregnant women with HIV in the previous guidelines but the revised ones will make it accessible to every single one. Another major change is that all children under the age of five with HIV will automatically be eligible for ART, whereas previously this was only applicable to those younger than two years old. The full table of planned changes is listed below:



Based on these changes, the World Health Organisation, UNAIDS and UNICEF have assembled a projection of the number of people on antiretroviral therapy and the resulting number of people that will be living with HIV in the future.


If these grand projections do indeed prove accurate, the impact of ART could be potentially game-changing in the global fight against AIDS and represents just how far we have come in the last three decades. You can view their full global treatment presentation here.


World AIDS Day 2013

This brings us up to World AIDS Day, one of the most crucial days in the health calendar. This year is the 25th anniversary of the initial event, which was the first ever internationally recognised health day, and it remains as vital as ever.

Despite the scientific advancements and developments in the field of HIV and AIDS, many people are still unaware of the facts surrounding the pandemic and misconceptions about it remain commonplace. Discrimination and social stigma continue to be prevalent and this is something we must fight to overcome.

As a result of the fantastic work carried out by researchers and supporters, HIV is no longer considered life-threatening and it is entirely manageable for those with access to the most advanced methods of treatment. However, the threat of HIV and AIDS has not simply disappeared, as many do not have access to the kind of prevention and care required. World AIDS Day is designed to remind the global public and governments that the pandemic is still a very real challenge and that it has not simply gone away.

The main aims of the day are:

·         To raise money

·         To increase awareness

·         To fight prejudice

·         To improve education

By fulfilling these objectives, we can help fund the global battle against AIDS, as well as educating more and more people about the realities of the pandemic and banishing the myths and prejudices that still surround HIV and AIDS.


What can you do for World AIDS Day?

There are many things that you can do to help support World AIDS Day and really make this year’s commemorations count. Firstly, with the influence of social media constantly growing, you might like to share a link to the World AIDS Day site on Facebook or Twitter. Changing your picture to reflect the occasion, adding a relevant hash tag or sharing a viral video related to World AIDS Day might seem insignificant, but this enterprise is based around people standing up and taking part. If everyone contributes to raise awareness, the repercussions around the world will become evident.

Another way to show your support is by wearing the World AIDS Day red ribbon. This symbol has long been representative of the fight against HIV and AIDS and is annually displayed at the White House. The tradition began in 2007, when a 28-foot red ribbon was displayed on the building’s North Portico, becoming the first symbolic banner to hang from the building since Abraham Lincoln’s time in office.

Finally, you can arrange your own form of fundraising, with some different ideas on the World AIDS Day website. For the third consecutive year, Better2Know will be supporting the Terrence Higgins Trust, making a donation for every HIV test or screen booked.

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