AIDS Awareness Month, observed every October, supports educational campaigns that disseminate science-based, factual, and clear information to youths, at-risk people, and the general public. With over 37 million people living with HIV worldwide, public information about its prevention, transmission, and treatment must be accurate and widely available.
Advocates have several goals including educating people about the importance of knowing your status and regular testing, lobbying for accessible and affordable testing and treatment, reducing stigma, ensuring the public has accurate information about HIV risk and transmission and supporting patients living with HIV/AIDS.
History of AIDS Awareness Month
HIV/AIDS, or the human immunodeficiency virus and its associated immune deficiency syndrome, first appeared in the Congo in the 1920s, spread to the Western Hemisphere via the Caribbean in the 1960s, and became a global pandemic in the 1980s as cases exploded around the world.
Because the first diagnosed patients were gay men, it was first believed that AIDS only affected homosexuals, drug users, and later people of Haitian origin. As scientists discovered more about the disease, they learned it was caused by a virus that could be transmitted in several ways and could affect anyone. By the end of 1985, more than 20,000 cases of AIDS were reported all over the world. Doctors and researchers scrambled to understand the infection and develop treatments and vaccines.
In 1987, the first antiretroviral medication effective in treating HIV, azidothymidine (known as AZT), was developed. A positive diagnosis was no longer a death sentence, but despite new information and treatment options, HIV/AIDS continued to spread. By the end of the 1980s, AIDS was a full-blown crisis, with more than 400,000 diagnosed cases.
To date, about 35 million people have died from AIDS, and roughly that same number live with the virus. In 2010, there were over 20 approved treatment options for HIV/AIDS, and new treatments are developed all the time. No vaccine exists yet, but thanks to anti-retroviral drugs and constantly improving treatment options, it’s now possible for an HIV patient with access to care to live a full and healthy life.
AIDS Awareness Month timeline
- November 2002
First Rapid HIV Test
The FDA approves the first rapid HIV test, which gives results in 20 minutes with a 99.^% accuracy.
- December 1, 1988
First World AIDS Day
The World Health Organization declares December 1 World AIDS Day, laying the groundwork for state-funded AIDS research and care programs.
- October 2, 1985
Rock Hudson Dies
Actor Rock Hudson dies from AIDS complications, making him the first high-profile fatality of the disease. His will left a quarter-million dollars to start the American Foundation for AIDS Research.
In September 1982, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC) starts using the term AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) to describe the cases of severe immune deficiency that start to occur in New York and California.
AIDS Awareness Month FAQs
What is the difference between HIV and AIDS?
HIV is the virus that breaks down the immune system, leaving your body weaker and less able to respond to infection from other sources. AIDS is the advanced stage of infection when the body becomes unable to defend itself from harmful pathogens.
What color is the AIDS ribbon?
A red ribbon is used as a symbol or awareness and support for people living with HIV/AIDS.
Who started AIDS day?
Two public information officers at the World Health Organization, James W. Bunn and Thomas Netter, started World AIDS Day in August 1987.
How to observe AIDS Awareness Month
The first step in AIDS awareness is knowing your own status. Call your doctor or local clinic to find a free test and get tested regularly.
Make a donation
Many organizations advocate for research, treatment, and support for HIV/AIDS patients and their families. If you can, donate to an advocacy group whose mission speaks to you.
Quiz yourself: do you know all the ways HIV is transmitted? What about the myths around it? Read up on basic information to make sure you know all the facts.
5 Interesting Facts About HIV/AIDS
You can test at home
You can buy home tests to test your HIV status in the comfort of your own home. Many clinics and organizations also offer free testing.
You can take steps to prevent HIV
You can protect yourself from HIV infection by practicing safe sex, avoiding intravenous drugs, and getting tested regularly.
A vaccine isn't yet available
Although many trials are in progress, no HIV or AIDS vaccine has yet been approved for human use.
Many people don't know they have HIV
Because HIV can be asymptomatic for years, you can contract it without knowing you're sick. Regular testing is important to ensure you don't transmit the infection to others.
HIV still disproportionately affects men. In 2017, males made up 81% of new HIV diagnoses in the United States.
Why AIDS Awareness Month is important
It reminds us to get tested
Getting tested regularly is important. Take some time during AIDS Awareness Month to go get tested and know your status.
History is important
Although no longer a death sentence, AIDS was, for years, a terrifying global pandemic that devastated communities and families.
There are many misconceptions
Many people still don’t have accurate information about how HIV is transmitted, when you’re at risk, and how to prevent it. AIDS Awareness Month promotes science-based education to ensure everyone has the facts about HIV/AIDS.
AIDS Awareness Month dates