AIDS is incurable due to the presence of a latent viral reservoir. During the life cycle of the virus, AIDS integrates into the host DNA. A subset of integrated AIDS provirus remains transcriptionally silent, producing neither viral proteins nor viral progeny, until reactivation by various physiologic stimuli. Unfortunately, we don’t know today whether a similar cure for HIV/AIDS will ever be discovered, or how long it might take.
The origins of World AIDS Day honors those early activists and remembers those who died as a result of that slow response. Historically, World AIDS Day (WAD) was an early public awareness campaign, every Dec 1st, since 1988. While WAD received the institutional support that so many fought to win it is time to look at what still needs to be accomplished to end AIDS.
World AIDS Day was first conceived in August 1987 by James W. Bunn and Thomas Netter, two public information officers for the Global Programme on AIDS at the World Health Organization in Geneva, Switzerland.
Bunn and Netter took their idea to Dr. Jonathan Mann, Director of the Global Programme on AIDS (now known as UNAIDS). Dr. Mann liked the concept, approved it, and agreed with the recommendation that the first observance of World AIDS Day should be on 1 December 1988.
Bunn, a former television broadcast journalist from San Francisco, had recommended the date of 1 December that believing it would maximize coverage of World AIDS Day by western news media, sufficiently long following the US elections but before the Christmas holidays.
In its first two years, the theme of World AIDS Day focused on children and young people. While the choice of this theme was criticized at the time by some for ignoring the fact that people of all ages may become infected with HIV, the theme helped alleviate some of the stigma surrounding the disease and boost recognition of the problem as a family disease.
People with AIDS who don't take medication only live about 3 years, even less if they get a dangerous infection.
Much remains to be done to end HIV. A global effort is put forth daily to combat the virus that still remains an epidemic, destroying too many lives. The first response of governments and institutions to the HIV epidemic lagged behind the passionate work of dedicated individuals who cared for those infected, fought against discrimination and bigotry, disseminated news on treatment and prevention, and finally won resources to combat AIDS.
The message behind reclaiming Dec 1st as World HIV Day is not merely around the change of letters, but around who sits at that table and who needs to participate. The fight to end HIV desperately needs all of us. We cannot be activists talking to each other, we must bring others to the table and keep them there, engaged, contributing, and learning. World HIV Day cannot be about institutions or singular agendas but it must involve all, from under-represented, most at risk, and each global citizen.