The year 2011 marks 30 years of AIDS following its discovery on June 5, 1981 when the first cases of AIDS were reported in the United States in five young gay men from Los Angeles. World AIDS Day began several years later in 1988 and has since been held on December 1 each year around the globe to provide an opportunity for people to show their support to those living with HIV and AIDS and to remember those who have passed away.
The theme for World AIDS Day 2011 is ‘Getting to Zero’ with the goal of zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths. You can wear a ribbon to raise awareness, because the red ribbon is an international symbol of AIDS awareness that is worn by people to demonstrate their care and concern about HIV and AIDS and to remind others of the need for their support and commitment. While researchers have been trying to find a cure for HIV and AIDS, unfortunately a cure is yet to be found, so raising awareness of HIV and AIDS is extremely important.
On June 5, 1981 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published a Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) describing cases of a rare lung infection (Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia (PCP) in five young, previously healthy gay men in Los Angeles. All the men had other unusual infections as well, indicating that their immune systems were not working and two had already died by the time the report was published. This edition of the MMWR marked the first official reporting of what became known as the AIDS epidemic.
While we may be familiar with HIV and AIDS, I wanted to include some information and statistics. HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is the virus that can cause Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), but they are not the same thing. HIV weakens or breaks down the body’s immune system and makes the body vulnerable to disease and infection. There is no vaccine or cure for HIV or AIDS at this time and every 9½ minutes someone in the United States is infected with HIV. In 2008, 2 million people died due to HIV/AIDS globally and another 2.7 million were newly infected.
HIV may be transmitted when blood, semen and vaginal fluid from an infected person enters the body of an uninfected person through unprotected anal, oral and vaginal sex or when sharing needles and other injecting equipment. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), men who have sex with men (MSM) account for more than half (53%) of all new HIV infections in the United States each year as well as nearly half (48%) of people living with HIV. There are 33.3 million people currently living with HIV/AIDS around the world and more than 25 million people have died of AIDS worldwide since the first cases were reported in 1981. The CDC estimates that more than 1 million people are living with HIV in the United States and 1 in 5 (21%) of those people living with HIV is unaware of their infection.
World AIDS Day is also an opportunity to think about your own personal circumstances and perhaps take the time to get yourself tested for HIV, considering the statistics show 1 in 5 HIV-positive people do not know that they are HIV-positive. While we may not be comfortable with HIV or AIDS, it exists throughout the world, so it’s important for as many people as possible to show their support by raising funds and awareness to help find a cure and to demonstrate care for those who may be affected by HIV or AIDS.