World AIDS Day educates, raises awareness

By Gabrielle Blanchard, Assistant Editor
 
How much do you know about your sexual health? How often are you tested? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it is estimated that about 1 in 7 people have HIV and don’t realize it as the disease could take up to three months to show up after infection. For some, it even takes up to ten years for symptoms to show up. For this reason, the CDC encourages that every person between ages 15-64 should be tested at least once. 

Each year, the World Health Organization chooses a theme for World AIDS Day and this year’s theme is “Know Your Status.” While the world has made great strides in 30 years, there are still certain stigmas attached to being tested, asking your partner to be tested, and continuing said testing. There are fair and understandable reasons as to not being tested, such as confidentiality issues, lack of access, and discrimination.
 
World AIDS Day has been observed every December 1 since 1988, in an effort to raise awareness of the disease, show support for those living with it, and mourn those who have lost their battle. The CDC states that in 2017, there were 36.9 million people in the world living with AIDS, 940,000 people had died from it, and 1.8 million people were infected with HIV.
 
The hope is to help raise awareness of the importance of testing early and testing often. It also serves as a reminder of the past we come from and why we should not forget it.
 
Even though the first cases of AIDS were noticed in the 1960s, they were never given a proper name, and the AIDS epidemic was only first publicized in a June 1981 New York Times article.
 
By 1995, there were 513,486 cases of AIDS reported with 319,849 cases resulting in death. A large part of this tragedy was the spreading of misinformation and the lack of response by President Ronald Reagan. 
 
This is a dark part of America’s history that is overlooked, dismissed, and not discussed at large. This is also something we can no longer keep ignoring. While we have made great strides and progress in combating HIV/AIDS, the disease destroyed countless lives during the height of the pandemic, something that could have been much better controlled, if the government had cared enough to do so.
 
In 1982, the disease was originally known as GRID: gay-related immune deficiency. A few months later, it received a new name: AIDS. The definition given for it was “a disease at least moderately predictive of a defect in cell-mediated immunity, occurring in a person with no known cause for diminished resistance to that disease.”
 
AIDS robbed victims of having the ability to fight disease and anything from a cut, to a cold, to cancer would have been the technical, but not official, cause of death. At the time, there was no way of preventing it. 
 
While thousands of people, gay men in particular, were receiving death sentences, many people were willing to let this happen in silence and saw it as a reckoning of sorts, and something that these people deserved. This, of course, was and remains entirely wrong and this lack of response to this crisis and the ways in which the severity could have been prevented is a tragic and shameful part of American history.
 
It wasn’t until the AIDS-related death of Hollywood superstar Rock Hudson in 1985, the first major celebrity to die of AIDS, that AIDS had a “face,” rather than a disease that affected nameless, faceless, people. It was a person who mattered deeply to the American public and was a turning point in the crisis. 
 
Eventually, a cure that allowed HIV positive patients to live relatively longer, normal lives was developed, but not before the pandemic robbed thousands of people of their lives, needlessly.
 
Remembering this part of our history is important, which is the hope of World AIDS Day, as well as to support those currently HIV-positive. Times may be different, but the stigma attached to HIV remains. More money is needed for research and education and knowing your status is a critical part of a person’s health.
 
Photo Credit: HIV.gov
 

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