What is World Aids Day?
World Aids Day calls on people around the world to mobilise to fight against HIV and AIDS, as well as fight the stigma and discrimination around the virus.
World Aids Day urges us to challenge the widespread misconceptions and misinformation still circulates about the virus. Most importantly, World AIDS Day encourages us to commemorate the lives lost to one of the most destructive pandemics in human history and safeguard the dignity and care of those living with the virus today.
The key to eradicating HIV and AIDS lies in continuing to pursue research, empowering communities, and creating policies that are informed by the needs of those affected by HIV and AIDS.
Why is World AIDS Day Important in 2023?
World AIDS Day is just as important as ever because it reminds us that HIV has not gone away. There is still a critical need for increased funding for the HIV and AIDS response and more awareness of the impact of HIV on people’s lives.
During the last two years of COVID-19, progress against the continued HIV pandemic has stagnated. Access to testing, services, and resources has decreased, which not only puts millions of lives at risk, but also makes the lives of those living with HIV more difficult.
World AIDS Day stresses the need to tackle these inequalities head-on by taking concrete actions on a global level.
What is HIV?
HIV stands for Human Immuno-Deficiency Virus. It is a virus that attacks the cells in your immune system and weakens the body’s ability to fight common infections and diseases. The virus only affects humans.
If untreated or treated too late, HIV is a progressive virus that can transition into AIDS. AIDS stands for Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. AIDS is regarded as the final and most severe stage of HIV. People living with AIDS often experience rare infections (known as opportunistic infections) and cancers.
How many people are affected by HIV and AIDS?
Since the first reported cases of HIV, 35 million people have died of AIDS-related illnesses.
Today, it is estimated that around 38 million people around the world are living with HIV and AIDS.
In the UK alone, there are 105,000 people living with HIV.
The United States CDC reports that there is an average of 1.5 million new cases of HIV every year.
How is HIV transmitted?
HIV is transmitted via the exchange of specific bodily fluids from infected people. These fluids include blood, semen, breast milk and other vaginal secretions.
HIV can also be transmitted from a mother to her child during pregnancy and delivery.
What are some HIV risk factors?
- Having intercourse without a condom.
- Engaging in the harmful use of drugs and alcohol in the context of sexual behaviour.
- Exchanging needles with infected persons in the context of drug abuse.
- Receiving unsafe injections or blood transfusions.
- Having another sexually transmitted disease such as herpes, chlamydia or gonorrhoea.
What are the signs and symptoms of HIV?
The signs and symptoms of HIV vary from person to person and depend on the stage of infection. Although people living with HIV tend to be the most infectious during the early stages of the virus, many people do not become aware of their status until the later stages.
A lot of people do not show any symptoms right after becoming infected. However, some early indications that you may have acquired HIV include influenza, rashes, or a sore throat.
As the infection progresses and the immune system weakens, people living with HIV may begin developing other symptoms such as fever, extreme weight loss, and swollen lymph nodes. Without proper treatment, people can develop more serious illnesses such as Kaposi sarcoma (cancer), meningitis, and tuberculosis.
How is HIV Diagnosed?
HIV can be diagnosed using a variety of methods. Scientific progress means that people can self-test for HIV.
The most common way to detect HIV is by using a rapid diagnostic test that is able to provide same day results. It is important to note that no single test is able to provide a full HIV diagnosis. Extensive secondary testing must be conducted by a healthcare professional.
Although testing for adults is now accessible and efficient, this is still not the case for infants born to mothers with HIV. For children under 18 months, rapid antibody testing is not sufficient to detect HIV. Testing must commence as early as 6 weeks of age to determine the infant’s status.
What is the treatment for HIV?
There is currently no cure for HIV, but the disease can be managed with a regimen of antiretroviral drugs. These drugs suppress viral replication in the body and allow a person’s immune system to recover and regain its ability to fight off opportunistic infections and some cancers.
The most common antiretroviral drugs used for the prevention and treatment of HIV are PrEP and PEP. There are, of course, other drugs that are used in the treatment of HIV and people often take a combination of drugs to fight the virus.
Most people on a consistent treatment plan will typically become undetectable within 6 months. This means that they are unable to transmit the virus to non-infected people.
How can you prevent HIV?
You can prevent HIV by limiting your exposure to risk factors. Ways to prevent the spread of HIV include:
- Not participating in unprotected intercourse.
- Use of antiretroviral drugs for prevention (oral PrEP).
- Harm reduction strategies for people who inject and use drugs.
- Regular testing.
- Elimination of mother-to-child transmission.
What are some common misconceptions about HIV and AIDS?
Despite the prevalence of HIV and AIDS, a poll by the National AIDS Trust found that 63% of the public does not recall seeing or hearing about the virus in the last 6 months. The lack of discourse and education around HIV and AIDS allows for the spreading of misinformation and the perpetuation of old misconceptions. Common myths and misconceptions about HIV and AIDS include:
- You can catch HIV through kissing.
- You can catch HIV by drinking from the same cup or fountain as someone with HIV.
- You can catch HIV from exercise equipment.
- You can catch HIV by touching a toilet seat or shaking hands.
- HIV only affects certain sexual orientations.
- HIV is a death sentence.
More worryingly, the same poll found that these narratives lead to prejudice and discrimination. People living with HIV and AIDS sometimes find themselves being shunned or mistreated by those with a limited understanding of the virus. In fact, only 1 out of 3 people polled reported having any sympathy for people living with HIV, regardless of how they acquired it.
Only 16% of people knew that if someone is on effective treatment, they cannot transmit HIV to others and will go on to live a long and healthy life.
Why is the red ribbon the symbol for HIV Awareness?
The universal symbol for HIV and AIDS awareness is a red ribbon. The symbol was designed in the early 1990s by a group of artists in New York. They gathered over 10 years after HIV and AIDS-related illnesses had ravaged marginalised communities and been largely ignored by the general public.
The artists wanted to avoid colours associated with the LGBT+ community such as pink and rainbow stripes. Instead, they wanted to honour the bravery and courage of those lost to the virus as well as those living with it. They ultimately decided on red for its connotations of boldness, passion, and love.
How can I take part in World AIDS Day?
There are many ways that you can take part in World AIDS Day. All participation, no matter how small, can have a consequential impact on eradicating the virus and showing support to people living with HIV.
- Get tested
- Wear the red ribbon
- Hold a fundraising event for HIV research
- Speak openly about HIV
- Attend a lecture or webinar on HIV
- Share your experiences