World AIDS Day Story and History

World AIDS Day was first observed on December 1st, 1988, to bring awareness to HIV and commemorate those affected by the disease. It was first initiated to capitalize on a gap in the media between the 1988 United States presidential elections and Christmas. James Bunn, a journalist who had taken a post at the WHO, believed that audiences would be drawn to the story after a long year of campaign coverage, offering something different.

The first World AIDS Day focused on children and youth, hoping to bring more awareness to the impact that HIV and AIDS had (and continues to have) on families. They hoped to expand from the commonly stigmatized groups and showcase that the disease can impact anyone.

In 1996, the initiative was taken over by Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS – UNAIDS, expanding the project’s scope to a year-round prevention and education campaign. In 2004, the World AIDS Day Campaign was registered as an independent, non-profit organization based in the Netherlands.

2018 was the initiative’s 30th anniversary and brought about the theme, “Know Your Status,” which continues to be used today to help bring attention to the work to reduce the stigma attached to the disease. This theme is a key part of the global community’s push to diagnose 90% of the world’s HIV population by 2030.

World AIDS Day Facts

World AIDS Day 2021 Theme

This year’s theme is End Inequalities. End AIDS. End Pandemics. The theme aims to highlight the urgent need to end the inequalities that drive HIV and other pandemics, such as COVID-19, around the world. Despite discovering HIV forty years ago, over 35 million people have died from it, making it one of the deadliest pandemics in modern history. World AIDS Day works each year to bring awareness to the serious nature of the disease and the progress communities around the world are making in achieving their goals to reduce transmission and deaths and increase the connections to treatment and care. With COVID-19 continuing to impact societies, it has shown us how important and linked health is with other issues such as equality, access to healthcare, social protections (especially for those who are most vulnerable), and economic sustainability and growth. Since 2020, we have seen the impact that inequality has had on different communities' ability to fight COVID-19, a concern that mirrors that of the fight against HIV. This year, we hope that WORLD AIDS Day helps bring attention to the ongoing need for investment into testing and identification, treatment, and support.

World AIDS Day Facts

  • World AIDS Day is on December 1st
  • It first started in 1988
  • It is the longest-running disease awareness initiative of its kind in public health
  • Recognized globally, World AIDS Day helps bring awareness to communities that may not receive as much attention

Members of ACT UP! hold up signs and placards during the Gay and Lesbian Pride march in New York City, June 26, 1988.

World AIDS Day UNAIDS Messages

The world is threatened by an expanding list of pandemics. As we enter the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic, we also enter the fifth decade of the AIDS pandemic. The world has failed to act with the urgency we need to both end AIDS and prepare for the next pandemic. The actions we need to end AIDS will also help us stop future pandemics.
COVID-19 has been so much worse than it could have been. As the world mobilizes against COVID-19 and prepares against future pandemics, we risk repeating many of the same mistakes that have kept us from ending AIDS. The course corrections we need to end AIDS will also protect the world against future pandemics.
We need a paradigm shift in global health financing and invest in community-led, human rights-based, gender transformative responses, essential workers, equitable access to life-saving medicines and health technologies, data systems that can detect inequalities, and rights-based approaches that address those inequalities.

IF WE DO NOT reshape our AIDS and pandemic responses urgently on these lines, the list of deadly pandemics will continue to grow—needlessly claiming lives, holding back socio-economic development, and ruining communities and societies.

IF WE DO, the results will be repaid in terms of human health and development and financially.

Global HIV/AIDS Goals and Strategy

The UNAIDS has set new global targets to end the HIV/AIDS global epidemic. Summarized, the fast-track targets are that by 2030:

  • 95% of people living with HIV know their status, 95% of people who know their status are receiving treatment, and 95% of people receiving treatment have a suppressed viral load so low that their immune system remains strong and their likelihood of passing along an infection is significantly reduced
  • That the number of new infections per year is reduced to 200,000 from the current 1.2 million in 2020
  • That there will be zero discrimination

The major benefits of a fast-track approach are:

  • 21 million AIDS-related deaths averted by 2030
  • 9 million infections among children averted by 2030
  • 28 million HIV infections averted by 2030
  • 15-fold return on HIV investments

These measures will help mark the end of the AIDS epidemic as a public health threat.

bioLytical’s World AIDS Day Goals

  1. Create awareness on the importance of testing in ending the HIV epidemic in Canada and across the globe
  2. Create awareness of HIV, including symptoms, causes, and testing and treatment
  3. Help reduce stigma on testing and HIV in general
bioLytical logo(R) Brandmark-CMYK_White BG

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us all how important equitable access to healthcare is, and this year’s theme helps increase awareness of the importance of access to testing, treatment, and support. World AIDS Day is a great opportunity for countries and groups to come together to acknowledge the ongoing work to fight the HIV/AIDS epidemic. By bringing together the global community to continue working to end HIV as a global health threat, this day is one of many excellent tools to help reach every person to help them know their status and connect to care quickly and equitably

Robert Mackie

CEO, bioLytical Laboratories,
Manufacturer of the INSTI test platform

INSTI® Case Studies

1. AIDS Walk Atlanta

  1. Since 1982, AIDS Walk Atlanta is an annual event that brings together the Atlanta community for a day of celebration, fundraising, and remembrance and recognition of the fight against HIV and AIDS. bioLytical has been fortunate to join this event in the past to help bring awareness to HIV and help with testing at events such as this. Our one-minute test helps event managers such as Steven Igarashi-Ball, plan and conduct large numbers of tests in a small timeframe and space. Click here to read more about AIDS Walk Atlanta and the great work they do in helping bring awareness and support to the HIV community.
    1. “When testing is fast and portable, it’s so much easier to offer it there and then. Removing the barriers to access is a huge priority for us. The INSTI test kit is game-changing because it allows people to know their status so quickly.” ~ Steven Igarashi-Ball

2. The HIMM Project

  1. The High Impact Men’s Movement (HIMM) Project is part of the KC CARE Health Center in Kansas City, Missouri, that helps make HIV testing accessible for uncomplicated Men who have Sex with Men (MSM) community. The HIMM Project takes place in several settings, such as walk-in testing clinics, nightclubs, and on-demand testing. We love that our INSTI® test can help providers like the HIMM Project test more people quickly and easily. Click here to read more about the excellent work the HIMM Project is doing.
    1. “Very quickly after trying INSTI in the field, we realized that a one-minute test would be ideal for use in public spaces, and it could enhance our outreach programs.” ~ Jonathan Antle

3. Estancia Corazon, Community-based HIV Organization in Puerto Rico

  1. Yacin works on the front lines of HIV prevention as a counsellor, helping many people in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico. Using the quick, one-minute INSTI® tests has helped Estancia Corazon pioneer the revolutionary concept of “traffic light testing” that helps get more people tested who would generally fall through the cracks, such as the homeless population and those who inject drugs. The team at Estancia Corazon stops at traffic lights where the homeless often gather and offer them free food and drinks alongside HIV testing. This process allows the team to provide counselling and education. The quick nature and high accuracy of the INSTI® HIV-1/2 Antibody Test allows Estancia to reach as many as 15 people a day with only two team members, helping reach more people. Click here to read more about the work Yacin and Estancia Corazon do to support Puerto Rico in the fight against HIV.
    1. “With INSTI®, there is no wait, no need to come back. We fill out the paperwork and do the time-consuming part of counseling while the person eats or drinks. When we test, they just wait 60 seconds, and they can leave with the result in their hand. We can continue to counsel them after the result and provide whatever kind of support they might need.” ~ Yacin Benavides, HIV Counsellor

What Can I Do on World AIDS Day?

  1. Buy a red ribbon or host a red ribbon at your business
    1. Host a Red Ribbon Donation Box
  2. Check out the resources below to learn more about HIV, treatment, testing options, and how you can get help end the HIV epidemic as a public health threat in Canada and beyond
  3. Share information on social media channels highlighting the importance of World AIDS Day using these hashtags:
    1. #WorldAIDSDay
    2. #WAD2021
    3. #StopHIVTogether
    4. #Fightthestigma
    5. #HIVAIDSawareness
  4. Check out these sites for more info:
  5. Design your own postcard or poster with a key message about HIV testing that you think will resonate with your community using Catie’s online tool:
  6. Watch and share these informative videos on HIV
  7. Take a free online course to learn more about HIV testing, prevention, and treatment and care from eduCATIE
  8. For youth-friendly information, check out Sexfluent,
  9. Get Tested! Check out the INSTI® HIV-1/2 Antibody Self Test for home testing options or reach out to your doctor or city sexual health clinic (see resources for more)