The first World AIDS Day took place in 1988. It was organised following lobbying from two World Health Organization (WHO) officers to the Global Programme on AIDS, today the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).
While the WHO and UNAIDS lead World AIDS Day, all United Nations member countries actively observe and participate in the day, and individual nations often set their own themes.
There is a global target of ending the AIDS pandemic worldwide by 2030.
Why is World AIDS Day so vital?
According to UNAIDS, in 2021:
- 4 million people worldwide were living with HIV/AIDS.
- Globally, 1.5 million people were newly infected with HIV/AIDS.
- 650,000 people worldwide died from AIDS-related illnesses.
- Around 5.9 million people are unaware they have HIV/AIDS.
While these numbers are slowly falling, they’re still vast, and there is still significant progress to be made in ending the AIDS pandemic. UNAIDS data also shows that the COVID-19 pandemic drew attention away from HIV/AIDS initiatives, a common occurrence across other areas of health and wellbeing. As a result, the resources committed to eradicating HIV/AIDS have been reduced in many locations, potentially putting millions of lives and the progress made against the condition to date at risk.
Since HIV/AIDS was first identified in 1984, an estimated 40.1 million deaths worldwide can be attributed to AIDS-related illnesses. These figures make HIV/AIDS the fourth deadliest pandemic in history, behind only the Black Death, Spanish Flu, and Justinianic Plague pandemics. If the global community fails to meet its 2030 target of eliminating AIDS, the overall death toll will likely exceed that of Spanish Flu around 2050, even with continuing advancements in medicine.
Global AIDS awareness is still a considerable challenge
While AIDS has been with us for almost 40 years, there are still significant shortfalls in awareness of the condition.
This is often characterised by the following:
- A lack of understanding among citizens about how to protect themselves and others from AIDS/HIV infections.
- Stigmas remain attached to disclosing you have received an HIV/AIDS diagnosis.
- Discrimination against those who are living with HIV/AIDS.
In addition to these challenges, UNAIDS reports that funding for HIV/AIDS research and programmes in low- to middle-income countries has decreased by 7% since 2017. Yet, these are the countries where HIV/AIDS remains most prevalent and where people are most at risk of infection. As such, this is seen as something requiring urgent action if targets are to be met.
What is the theme of World AIDS Day 2022?
This year, World AIDS Day has a theme of "Equalise." This theme aims to act as a call to action for the global healthcare community to work towards the "proven practical actions" that can help address and reduce inequalities in AIDS care worldwide.
The actions that UNAIDS is calling for include:
- Increasing the availability, quality, and suitability of HIV/AIDS treatment, testing, and prevention, to ensure everyone who needs these services can access them.
- Reforming law, policy, and practice to tackle the stigmas and exclusions faced by people living with HIV/AIDS and marginalised populations.
- Ensuring the global north and south share technology to enable equal access to the best HIV/AIDS science and resources for communities worldwide.
- Marginalised communities to use the "Equalise" message to further highlight the specific inequalities they face in their lives.
As with many global health concerns, women and people in low- and middle-income countries are disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS.
According to UNAIDS:
- 54% of people living with HIV/AIDS are women and girls.
- HIV/AIDS prevention programmes for adolescent girls and young women operate in only 40% of high-incidence locations in Africa.
In addition, UNAIDS also estimates that only a third of people in what it describes as "key populations" – gay men, other men who have sex with men, transgender people, people who use drugs, sex workers, and prisoners – have access to regular HIV/AIDS prevention services and resources.
As happens every year, the World AIDS Day report, outlining progress and the latest key HIV/AIDS statistics from around the world, will be released in late November, a few days before the event itself.
How to get involved with World AIDS Day
The simplest way to get involved on World AIDS Day is to buy and wear a red ribbon, the global symbol of HIV/AIDS awareness. These are typically available online from national AIDS charities. However, it is also common for superstores and fashion brands to get involved. Perhaps the most famous example was in 2007, with GAP’s PRODUCT (RED) campaign.
Look out for your favourite brands marking World AIDS Day and fundraising activities as you shop online and in-store around December 1st.
Given the global target of eliminating AIDS by the end of the decade, you might use World AIDS Day 2022 as an opportunity to get involved with fundraising more regularly.
Contact your local AIDS charities and sign-up for their mailing lists to learn more about how you can get involved and make a difference.
Schools, businesses, and other organisations looking to raise awareness can find a wealth of resources on the UNAIDS website.