December 1 is an iconic day in the history of the fight against HIV. The deadly virus has claimed 35 million lives across the world since it first came into being in the 1980s. There was little hope for those diagnosed with AIDS then and hence, they would succumb to death within a few years.While most were ignorant about the disease, they were also full of fear of its implications. People who contracted this illness were stigmatised. In the absence of proper treatment, there was no hope for those who had to live with this condition. Until, a special day was earmarked to promote awareness all over the world about how to best deal with the disease and fight it to emerge victorious.
Troubled early days
Little was known about the spread of HIV until two doctors, Françoise Barré-Sinoussi and Luc Montagnier isolated the virus at the Institut Pasteur in 1983. The World Health Organisation (WHO) assessed the AIDS situation globally and started monitoring it the very same year. For the very first time, the news spread that the virus did not only affect specific groups of habitual drug users or the LGTBQ community, but also heterosexuals.
People also got to know that unprotected sex, sexually transmitted infection (STI), injury due to a needle stick or unsafe medical procedures such as blood transfusions or tissue transplants could all make you susceptible to the disease. A pregnant woman infected with the virus could transmit HIV to her baby as well. Now that people worldwide had more knowledge about the illness, what was needed was to step up scientific research for treatment of the disease.
The special programme for AIDS set up by WHO in 1987, went on to become the Global programme on AIDs under Dr. Jonathan Mann noting country responses to this epidemic and focusing on research.
Origins of the day
The momentum for the fight against HIV owes its origins to two communication officers, Thomas Netter and James Bunn who were working at WHO in the mid 1980s . They were closely following the developments of the disease globally and had a brilliant idea. They decided that it was the perfect time to share the story of the AIDS campaign with the general public and garner their support to put an end to it.
Both of them were convinced that it would appeal to the masses given the extent to which HIV had affected global communities. It was now or never. And so, December 1, 1988 was marked as the first World AIDS day. The duo spent an arduous 16 months planning and designing for the inauguration of the event. Children and youth of the world were at the forefront of the first World AIDS Day. This helped to generate awareness among the public about the impact of the disease on a relatively younger population.
Since then World AIDS Day is celebrated every year, and is centered around a theme that reflects the objectives of public health authorities globally. While in the earlier days, the focus was on promoting awareness, treatments and medications like antiretroviral therapy (ART) became important in a few years. From the late-1990s, countries shifted to addressing the bottlenecks that were stifling their efforts to prevent the disease. This included the discrimination that AIDs patients faced in the society and also the stigma that they lived with, particularly women and children.
Battling AIDS in the 20th century
With scientific advances in therapy, diagnostics tests to identify HIV as well as breakthroughs in intervention to prevent the disease in the last few years, policymakers aim to end the menace of HIV by 2030. UNAIDS’ 90-90-90 initiative in 2016 and Access Equity Rights Now campaign are steps in that direction. With only half of all those infected with the virus aware of their situation and only half of them receiving treatment, there is still a long way to go as the 31st anniversary of the World AIDS Day nears.
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