World AIDS Day is a public health and awareness campaign that provides an opportunity to draw attention to the worldwide HIV epidemic. The event started in 1988 and it has been celebrated every year since on the 1st of December. During the public health and awareness campaign, there are various events that are organized all over the world for the main goal of raising awareness of HIV. The theme of this year’s event is Hands up for HIV Prevention. The theme each year is set by the World AIDS Campaign which is an international coalition of HIV and AIDS groups, organizations and networks.
Each country can also choose how they interpret the themes in their own ways. The National AIDS Trust (NAT) of the United Kingdom is in charge of producing a website for World AIDS Day along with materials every year. Other organizations also had their own events like the campaign of UNAIDS in 2014 which focused on “closing the gap” producing resources that support the campaign in a slightly different manner. In the United Kingdom and other countries in Europe, information regarding HIV Testing Week is one of the priorities. HIV Testing Week happens right before World AIDS Day.
Purpose of World AIDS Day
The main goal of World AIDS Day is to draw attention to the worldwide HIV epidemic. There are different events that raise awareness of HIV and help remember those who have died from the disease. It also symbolizes solidarity with those who are living with HIV. The public health and awareness campaign is also for celebrating survival and health. It also highlights the importance of raising funds for HIV and other related causes.
One of the main objectives of World AIDS Day is to raise public awareness of the signs and symptoms of HIV. Here is a brief overview of the stages and symptoms of HIV/AIDS:
The first stage is referred to as the acute infection or seroconversion which occurs within the second to sixth week after becoming infected. During this stage, the body fights the infection causing symptoms that are similar to viral illnesses like the flu. These are the symptoms which may last one or two weeks then completely disappears:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Muscle aches
- Sore throat
- Rash which usually appears in the torso
The Second stage is the period without symptoms wherein the immune system loses the battle with HIV causing the symptoms to disappear. This is called the asymptomatic or latent period which can even last more than 10 years.
The third stage is acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) which is the advanced stage of infection. The CD4 T-cell number drops lower than 200; this is when a person is diagnosed with AIDS. Some people are not even aware that they have been infected with HIV until they experience symptoms related to the disease like:
- Chronic tiredness
- Swollen lymph nodes in the neck or groin
- Fever that lasts more than ten days
- Unexplainable weight loss*
- Night sweats
- Purplish spotting on the skin
- Shortness of breath
- Severe and long-lasting diarrhea
- Yeast infections in the throat/mouth/vagina
- Easy bruising or unexplainable bleeding
What You Can Do on World AIDS Day?
- Hold a forum in your community to discuss the impact of HIV/AIDS
- Encourage local newspapers or schools to sponsor a contest such as an essay
- Hold a news conference with public figures or government officials to raise awareness of the impact of HIV/AIDS on the community
- Use social media to spread awareness of World AIDS Day
- Organize a fundraising event for HIV/AIDS research
- Distribute educational materials about HIV/AIDS
Message on World AIDS Day
On World AIDS Day, everyone should contribute in closing the gap between people who have access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support and those who are being left behind. Everyone can help and contribute to the cause even in the smallest ways.
Special Tips on World AIDS Day
The most common way people get infected with HIV is by having unprotected sexual intercourse with someone who is infected. In most cases, you cannot tell just by looking at someone if they have HIV so it is important to protect yourself and your partner. Here are the basics of safe sex and HIV prevention:
- Do not have unprotected sex outside of a committed relationship or marriage. Get tested if you or your partner has ever had unprotected sex or injected drugs.
- You cannot get HIV if your vagina, penis, mouth or anus does not touch another person’s vagina, penis, mouth or anus. There are safe sex activities like kissing, mutual masturbation and erotic massage.
- Risk can be reduced* by using latex or polyurethane condom. Natural-skin condoms help prevent pregnancy but do not prevent infections.
- Oral sex without the use of a condom or latex dam is unsafe although it is safer compared to unprotected intercourse
- There is an HIV drug (Truvada) which can be used by those who are at high risk of getting HIV infection
Using drugs can also increase* HIV risk since it promotes* unsafe sex. The use of injected drugs is another cause of HIV infection. Sharing equipment for injected drugs which includes needles, cookers, syringes, cotton and rinse water can cause HIV infection.