The History of World AIDS Day

The Need for Global Awareness and Support Has Never Been Greater

Photo Credit: Christian AIDS Bureau for Southern Africa (CABSA)

World AIDS Day was first observed on December 1, 1988 to bring awareness to HIV/AIDS and to commemorate those affected by the disease. Today, it is regarded as the longest-running disease awareness and prevention initiative of its kind in the history of public health.

Since those early days, the epidemic has changed enormously and so, too, has the global agenda. Today, there is a greater push for the immediate, universal treatment for all people living with HIV, increasing the number of persons needing therapy from 15 to 30 million.

With stagnating global contributions and increasing infection rates in some countries, one can argue that there has been no better time than now to mark World AIDS Day.

History of World AIDS Day

Interestingly enough, World AIDS Day was first conceived as a means to capitalize on a media gap that existed between then U.S. presidential elections of 1988 and Christmas. James Bunn, a broadcast journalist who had recently taken a post at the World Health Organization (WHO), was convinced that audiences could be drawn to the story after nearly a year of non-stop campaign coverage. He and his colleague, Thomas Netter, decided that December 1 was the ideal date and spent next 16 month designing and implementing the inaugural event.

The first World AIDS Day focused on the theme of children and youth in order to bring greater awareness of the impact of AIDS on families, and not just groups commonly stigmatized by the media (e.g., gay men, injecting drug users).

The event also coincided with the founding of the International AIDS Society (IAS) that same year.

From 1996, World AIDS Day operations were taken over by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), which expanded the scope to the project to a year-round prevention and education campaign.

In 2004, the World AIDS Campaign became an independent non-profit organization based in Netherland.

World AIDS Day Themes

World AIDS Day themes over the years have largely mirrored the policy goals of public health authorities—moving from awareness and education to the larger objectives of community and global cooperation.

From the late-1990s, as awareness grew about the life-extending promise of combination antiretroviral therapy, the focus gradually shifted from family and community to key barriers stifling the global prevention effort—including stigma, discrimination, and the disempowerment of women and children.

With the founding of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria in 2002 and the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) in 2003, the focus further shifted toward encouraging sustained international funding from G8 countries with the “Keep the Promise” campaigns of 2005-2010.

In more recent years, advances in therapy and global antiretroviral coverage, as well as breakthroughs in immunological and vaccine research, have led policy makers to promote the promise of eventual eradication with the “Getting to Zero” campaigns from 2011-2015.

  • 1988 – Inaugural Event
  • 1989 – Our World, Our Lives – Let’s Take Care of Each Other
  • 1990 – Women and AIDS
  • 1991 – Sharing the Challenge
  • 1992 – Community Commitment
  • 1993 – Time to Act
  • 1994 – AIDS and the Family
  • 1995 – Shared Rights, Shared Responsibilities
  • 1996 – One World. One Hope.
  • 1997 – Children Living in a World with AIDS
  • 1998 – Forces of Change: World AIDS Campaign With Young People
  • 1999 – Listen, Learn, Live! World AIDS Campaign with Children & Young People
  • 2000 – AIDS: Men Make a Difference
  • 2001 – Men Can Make a Difference:  “I care. Do you?”
  • 2002 – Live and Let Live: Stigma and Discrimination
  • 2003 – Live and Let Live: Stigma and Discrimination
  • 2004 – “Have you heard me today?” Women, Girls, HIV and AIDS.
  • 2005 – Stop AIDS. Keep the Promise.
  • 2006 – Keep the Promise – Accountability
  • 2007 – Keep the Promise – Leadership “Take the Lead
  • 2008 – Keep the Promise – Leadership “Lead, Empower, Deliver
  • 2009 – Keep the Promise – Universal Access and Human Right
  • 2010 – Keep the Promise – Universal Access and Human Right
  • 2011 – Getting to Zero: Zero New HIV infections. Zero discrimination. Zero AIDS related deaths.
  • 2012 – Getting to Zero: Zero New HIV infections. Zero discrimination. Zero AIDS related deaths.
  • 2013 – Getting to Zero: Zero New HIV infections. Zero discrimination. Zero AIDS related deaths.
  • 2014 – Getting to Zero: Zero New HIV infections. Zero discrimination. Zero AIDS related deaths.
  • 2015 – Getting to Zero: Zero New HIV infections. Zero discrimination. Zero AIDS related deaths.

Sources:

Kinsella, J. “Covering the Plague Years: Four Approaches to the AIDS Beat.” New England Journal of Public Policy. 1988; 4(1):36. http://scholarworks.umb.edu/nejpp/vol4/iss1/36

World AIDS Campaign. “History of World AIDS DAY 1988-2010.” Amsterdam, Netherlands and Cape Town, South Africa. http://www.worldaidscampaign.org/world-aids-day/history-of-world-aids-day/

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