The conceptualization of World AIDS Day in 1987 can be credited to two World Health Organization (WHO) journalists, Jim Bunn and Thomas Netter, who provided coverage on the AIDS epidemic after HIV was identified in 1984. Both the opportunity to connect with people living with HIV and AIDS and the heavy knowledge that the majority of them passed away soon after being interviewed took an emotional toll on the journalists, but also motivated them to want to do more. In an interview with TIME magazine, Bunn shared that they had been reading excerpts from a speech by WHO general director calling for global mobilization and recounted the specific moment when he said, “‘We need a day!’ We looked at each other … then jumped up out of our chairs and started brainstorming on whiteboards, activities, strategies, the date”. According to Bunn, setting the date was the easy part as December 1st was the perfect window between U.S. elections and the beginning of the Christmas season. They took their ideas for organization, raising awareness, and messaging to Dr. Johnathan Mann, the director of the Global Program on AIDS and so the first established global health day, World AIDS Day, was launched on December 1st, 1988. The designated theme was “Communication.”
This year marks the 30th anniversary of World AIDS Day, with the theme “Know Your Status.” It is interesting to note that the themes of each World AIDS Day have tended to reflect significant periods in the work to end the epidemic, challenges encountered in dealing with it, and current events. The national and international events of 2018 have created momentum and opportunities for individuals and communities wanting to be engaged, have a voice, and collectively participate in doing more. According to Dr. Andrew Spieldenner, who writes for POZ, “The biggest gains in the HIV epidemic have been due to community movements.” Informed involvement in any capacity is powerful. The opportunity to show up and contribute meaningfully is empowering.
On World AIDS Day this year, the theme, “Know Your Status” is relevant to everyone. Normalizing and encouraging the decision to get tested is essential to emphasize and turn into an action step for anyone, regardless of living with HIV or not. You may find yourself asking, “Why should I be tested?” or “How can getting tested make any sort of impact?” By participating in an HIV test, not only do you become more informed, you also can become a powerful voice to speak of your experience to others within your scope of influence. By helping to promote and destigmatize testing, you are able to make an impact on others who might be encouraged to know their status because you are willing to share and engage with them on the topic. According to the UNAIDS Data 2018 report, there were an estimated 36.9 million people with HIV around the world in 2017. For these individuals and their support systems, knowledge and remaining engaged is a powerful way to promote awareness within their scope of influence. According to the CDC, people living with HIV who maintain an undetectable viral load cannot transmit HIV. Medication adherence and engagement in medical care are key ways that people living with HIV can know their status, celebrate that undetectable = untransmittable (U=U), and “affirm that in 2018 living with HIV does not prevent them from loving, contributing and creating a greater world for future generations.”
Each year, regardless of the designated theme or current events, World AIDS Day is an opportunity to remember the past and honor the memory of those who we have lost to HIV, shed light on the stigma that surrounds HIV, call for awareness and education, and support those currently living with HIV. In an interview with NPR, Bunn said, “The fact that there’s conversation occurs on an annual basis on World AIDS Day is significant.” Having a designated day will always be necessary to intentionally create a space for mindful acknowledgement, collective remembrance, and strength that only comes from feeling united with others towards a cause that is bigger than ourselves. This year’s call to action centers on the power and accessibility of knowledge. Knowing your status and engaging with others on this topic to the extent that you feel comfortable is helpful. This World AIDS Day, make it a point to talk to someone in your life about the importance of testing, being informed, and engaging in care so that the collective knowledge we share can unite us in our mission toward a future that is HIV and AIDS free.
Nebraska AIDS Project is proud to participate in the following World AIDS Day events in communities across the state of Nebraska:
CANCELLED due to weather. Saturday, December 1st, 7:00 pm; World AIDS Day service at First Unitarian Church (3114 Harney Street), a portion of the AIDS Memorial Quilt will be on display
Saturday, December 1st, 1:00-3:00 pm; Day With(out) Art at The Union for Contemporary Art (2423 N 24th Street), HIV testing will be provided
1:00 pm – Screening of Visual AIDS film
1:15 pm – Panel discussion moderated by Dominique Morgan
2:00 pm – Introduction to Black & Pink and card signing party
POSTPONED due to weather, new date Saturday, December 15th, 4:30-6:30pm World AIDS Day Celebration and Remembrance at the Salvation Army (2625 Potter Street), a meal is provided
Thursday, November 29th, 3-6pm Testing on Doane’s Campus
Friday, November 30th, 10-2pm. Education at Wayne State College Student Center (1111 Main Street)
Saturday, December 1st at 6:15pm. Candlelight memorial, slide show, and call to action at the Hampton Inn (Hwy 26)
Shaina Adams works for Nebraska AIDS Project in Lincoln, NE. She enjoys yoga, dogs, kombucha, and reading a book at home.