In 2020, the world’s attention has been focused on the COVID-19 pandemic and how pandemics affect lives and livelihoods. COVID-19 is showing once again how health is interlinked with other critical issues, such as reducing inequality, human rights, gender equality, social protection, and economic growth, just as HIV/AIDS did when the situation hit pandemic proportions in the 1980s.

A walk through History

On June 5, 1981, when the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported five cases of Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia in young men in Los Angeles, few suspected it heralded a pandemic of AIDS. In 1983, a retrovirus (later named the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV) was isolated from a patient with AIDS. In the 25 years since the first report, more than 65 million persons have been infected with HIV, and more than 25 million have died of AIDS. Worldwide, more than 40 percent of new infections are young persons, 15 to 24 years of age and significant attention should be given to this age group.

– An estimated 2.1 million people were living with HIV in Latin America and the Caribbean in 2017 (1.8 million in Latin America and 310,000 in the Caribbean), according to global statistics.

– And there are 100,000 new infections in Latin America and 15,000 in the Caribbean, annually.

– Some 47,000 people died from AIDS-related illnesses (37,000 in Latin America and 10,000 in the Caribbean), in 2018

Founded in 1988, World AIDS Day was the first ever international day for global health.

“In 1987, six years into the pandemic, the World Health Organization (WHO) established the Global Program on AIDS. This program, of which I was executive director, raised awareness about the pandemic. A quarter century into the pandemic, the global response stands at a crossroads.” says Dr Merson, professor at the Yale School of Public Health and director of Yale’s Center for Interdisciplinary Research on AIDS.

Every year, on 1 December, the world commemorates World AIDS Day. People around the world unite to show support for people living with and affected by HIV and to remember those who lost their lives to AIDS and AIDS-related illnesses. With this in mind, this year the theme of World AIDS Day is aptly identified as “Global solidarity, shared responsibility”.

End the Stigma

World AIDS Day remains as relevant today as it has always been, reminding people and governments that HIV has not gone away. There is still a critical need to increase awareness of the impact of HIV on people’s lives, to end stigma and discrimination and to improve the quality of life of people living with HIV. Every year, United Nations agencies, governments and civil society join together to campaign around specific themes related to HIV and AIDS, encouraging: –

– Events highlighting the current state of the epidemic.

– People living with HIV to vocalize their issues.

– Awareness-raising activities taking place around the globe.

– Many people wear a red ribbon, the universal symbol of awareness of support for and solidarity with people living with HIV.

Young people, HIV and AIDS

The number of adolescents dying due to AIDS-related illnesses tripled between 2000 and 2015, the only age group to have experienced a rise. Estimates by CDC and UNICEF, suggest that as many as 740,000 additional adolescents could become infected between 2016 and 2030.

– AIDS is the leading cause of death among young people (aged 10-24) in Africa, and second leading cause globally

– Young women are twice as likely to acquire HIV as young men

– Limited HIV and sexual health knowledge is a key barrier to reducing HIV infections among young people

– Unprotected sex is the most common route of HIV infection among young people

Can HIV Be Prevented?

To reduce the risk of getting HIV, people who are sexually active should:

– get tested for HIV and make sure all partners do too

– reduce their number of sexual partners

– use a condom every time they have sex (including vaginal, oral, or anal sex)

– get tested and treated for STDs (sexually transmitted diseases); having an STD increases the risk of HIV infection

– consider taking a medicine every day (called PrEP or pre-exposure prophylaxis) if they are at very high risk of getting infected (for example, if they are in a sexual relationship with someone with HIV)

For everyone:

– Do not inject drugs or share any kind of needle.

– Do not share razors or other personal objects that may touch blood.

– Do not touch anyone else’s blood from a cut or sore.

We Can Stop HIV One Conversation at a Time:

Today, more tools than ever are available to prevent HIV. Research has found that talking about HIV and AIDS is associated with increased condom use, testing, and knowledge about prevention, all of which are associated with fewer new infections.

We all have a role to play, so let’s do our part to stop HIV together.

Assess your risk and learn more at https://hivrisk.cdc.gov/

Share your perspective on social media and join the awareness campaign using the following hashtags: #WorldAIDSDay #WAD2020 #StopHIVTogether #EndHIVEpidemic