What is World AIDS Day?
An estimated 38 million people worldwide are living with HIV or AIDS. In the United States, approximately 1.2 million people are living with HIV and about 14 percent of those (1 in 7 people) don’t know it. HIV is more common in certain populations, including ethnic minorities, racial minorities, gay men and bisexual men.
Since being identified in 1984, over 35 million people have died of HIV or AIDS. Thankfully, HIV is now a manageable health condition with medicines to keep those infected healthy. When taken consistently and correctly, eventually the HIV virus will become undetectable in blood samples (though the virus is still present in the infected person).
Founded in 1988, December 1st is designated as World AIDS Day every year. The day is intended as an opportunity for people all over the world to come together in the fight against HIV, to show support for everyone living with HIV, and to remember and honor those who have died from an AIDS-related illness.
Despite advances in HIV treatment, many people still do not know the facts about protecting others or themselves. There is also still a stigma surrounding the virus and discrimination still exists for people suffering from HIV/AIDS.
World AIDS Day provides a time to remind the worldwide public and governments that HIV is still very much present. Money is still needed to fund research, increase awareness, provide vital treatment and fight false information.
How You Can Help Increase Awareness
The more everyone gets involved to increase awareness and knowledge, the closer we get to a cure. Some ways you can help increase awareness include:
- Volunteer. Contact a local HIV service organization and ask about different volunteer opportunities available.
- Share knowledge and start discussion. Use social media tools, such as TikTok, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat. You’ll be able to connect with others interested in HIV issues as well as share information about HIV.
- Get involved in awareness activities. World AIDS Day and other national observances offer opportunities to increase awareness and encourage people to get tested for HIV or find care if they are HIV-positive. Attend local events or get involved in organizing one.
Learn as much as possible. Keep up-to-date about changes in HIV research, prevention and treatment. You can sign up to receive email updates at HIV.gov.
Supporting Friends or Family Who Have Been Diagnosed
You may have a mix of emotions when a friend or family member tells you they’ve been diagnosed with HIV. This is the time to focus on your friend and family member, regardless of your feelings, because what they need most is your support. You can help them in many ways:
- Listen. Being quiet and actively listening can be hard for all of us. This is the time you need to focus on your loved one and offer your support the way they need it, not the way you want to give it. An HIV diagnosis is life-changing. Listen and offer your support.
- Talk. Be available. They may or may not want to talk about it, but you need to be there when they do want to talk. Be honest and open with them and follow their lead.
- Ask. Ask what you can do to help them. Ask whether other people know about their diagnosis or if they prefer to keep it private.
- Be there. Do the same things you did together before they were diagnosed. Don’t treat your relationship any differently. They need to know that you see them as the same person they’ve always been to you and that their diagnosis does not define them.
- Educate yourself about HIV. Learn what it is, about transmission, treatment, and how to stay healthy while living with the virus. Keep in mind that your friend may not want information you’ve learned. Give them their space and follow their lead.
- Encourage them to seek treatment. Not everyone diagnosed finds it easy to seek treatment right away. Your support here is crucial. HIV treatment should be started as soon as possible after diagnosis. The earlier they seek treatment, the earlier they can start treatment with HIV medication to keep the virus under control, prevent spreading it, and stop the infection from progressing to AIDS.
- Support medication adherence. Ask your loved one how you can best support them in sticking to their medication routine.
Support yourself. You cannot support someone else if you do not take care of yourself. Get counseling if you need it or use your support network to lean on when you need it.
Importance of Getting Tested
If you have had sexual partners in the past and have never been tested; or, if you are the sexual partner of someone who has been diagnosed with HIV, you need to be tested.
Some people do not wish to get tested in a healthcare setting. There are now home tests for HIV. Regardless of how you decide to get tested, knowing your status is important for your health, your partner and any possible future partners.
If your test is negative, but you are in a relationship with an HIV-positive individual, speak with a healthcare provider about PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis), which is a daily medicine taken to prevent HIV infection. PrEP is recommended for all people who are at high risk of HIV infection.
You can find a healthcare provider and get tested for HIV at any NJFPL-supported health center. Our centers operate in all 21 counties of New Jersey. Visit njfpl.org to find the most convenient center for you.