BY JEFF SKINNER
World AIDS Day is an international day dedicated to raising awareness about the AIDS epidemic caused by the spread of HIV infection, and mourning those who have died of the disease. The day is often observed with education on AIDS prevention and control.
In 1987, James W. Bunn and Thomas Netter (two public information officers for the Global Programme on AIDS in Geneva, Switzerland) had an idea to start World AIDS Day. Dunn and Netter took their idea to Dr. Jonathan Mann, Director of the Global Programme on AIDS (now UNAIDS). Dr. Mann liked the idea and agreed with the recommendation that the first observance of World AIDS Day should be on December 1, 1988.
According to UNAIDS, as of 2017, AIDS has killed between 28.9 million and 41.5 million people worldwide, and an estimated 36.7 million people are living with HIV. In several parts of the world, the death rate from AIDS epidemic has decreased since 2005, the year that AIDS caused the most deaths.
Every year, World AIDS Day has a theme. The theme for the first year in 1988 was Communication. In 1998, it was Force for Change: World AIDS Campaign With Young People. For four years, 2005 through 2008, the theme remained the same: Stop AIDS. Keep the Promise. This year, the theme is Know Your Status.
The response to the AIDS crisis has been great and we’ve made a lot of progress. In fact, millions of people are currently living with HIV are leading healthy and productive lives. But we still have miles to go. The latest UNAIDS report shows that one of the challenges remaining is personal knowledge of one’s HIV status.
According to UNAIDS, the aim is “to diagnose 90% of all HIV-positive persons, provide antiretroviral therapy (ART) for 90% of those diagnosed, and achieve viral suppression for 90% of those treated.” HIV testing is crucial for increasing treatment and achieving those 90-90-90 targets by 2020. Testing also empowers people by offering choices regarding prevention and protection — people can’t prevent the spread of HIV or protect themselves or their partners if they don’t know their status.
Of course, getting tested isn’t always that easy. UNAIDS states that the estimate “more than 9.4 million people living with HIV still do not know their status.” There are countless reasons why people don’t get tested — from the stigma surrounding and discrimination against HIV positive people to lack of access and resources. Currently, companies and healthcare providers are pioneering ways around these obstacles. Opportunities such as self-testing, community-based testing and multi-disease testing services could help those scared of or unable to access “traditional” HIV testing.
Personally, I got tested every 3-6 months. One day, when I went into my check-up, I knew something was wrong. I explained to a stranger that this time felt different; my body didn’t feel good, my mind didn’t feel good, and I just wanted answers. She and I had a long conversation, and she asked me what I would do if I found out I was positive. I explained to her that my ex was positive, and we educated each other on HIV and AIDS. But I had made a mistake. When my ex and I broke up, I got with a guy that didn’t tell me or didn’t know his status. I responded to her that I will always be honest, and I will always be positive about being positive.
I will never forget August 3, 2013, when she told me I was HIV positive. That is why I believe it is important to get tested and know your status.
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