The first ever global health day was established in 1988. World AIDS Day takes place every year on December 1 and is an opportunity for people to unite worldwide against one common cause, show support for those living with HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus), and remember those individuals who have died.

According to the World AIDS Day website, an estimated 38 million people have the virus globally. Although HIV was only identified in 1984, more than 35 million people have died of HIV or an AIDS-related illness.

HIV numbers across the world from 2021 are staggering:

  • 650,000 people died from HIV-related causes
  • An estimated 38.4 million people were living with HIV
  • 5 million people acquired HIV
    • 3 million were adults
    • 160,000 were children (15 years old and younger)

Though the numbers seem high, in 2021 there was a 32% decline in new HIV infections since 2010.

While there is no cure for HIV infection, there is an increasing access to effective HIV prevention, diagnosis, and treatment and care.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), people living with HIV tend to be most infectious in the first few months after infection. Since the infection weakens the immune system over time, many people who are HIV positive are unaware of their status until its later stages.

Signs and symptoms can include:

  • Influenza-like illness including fever, headache, rash, or sore throat (early stages)
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Weight loss
  • Fever
  • Diarrhea
  • Cough

Without proper treatment, individuals could also develop tuberculosis (TB), cryptococcal meningitis, severe bacterial infections, and cancers such as lymphomas and Kaposi’s sarcoma.

HIV can be transmitted from mother to child during pregnancy and delivery, and through the exchange of body fluids from infected people via blood, breast milk, and semen and vaginal secretions. It cannot be transmitted via ordinary contact including kissing, hugging, shaking hands, or sharing person objects, food, or water.

World AIDS Day is important because it is a reminder that HIV has not gone away. Work still needs to be done by increasing awareness, raising money, fighting the stigma, and providing education.

Showing solidarity on World AIDS Day can be done by anyone. One way to be proactive is to get tested for HIV.

Locally, Planned Parenthood, Highlands Health, and the Ryan White Clinic (run out of Conemaugh’s Family Medical Center) provide HIV testing, education, and other services.