World AIDS Day, designated on 1 December every year since 1988, is an international day dedicated to raising awareness of the AIDS pandemic caused by the spread of HIV infection and mourning those who have died of the disease. The acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) is a life-threatening condition caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). The HIV virus attacks the immune system of the patient and reduces its resistance to other ‘diseases’.
Government and health officials, non-governmental organizations, and individuals around the world observe the day, often with education on AIDS prevention and control.
As of 2020, AIDS has killed 36.3 million between [27.2 million and 47.8 million] people worldwide, and an estimated 37.7 million people are living with HIV, making it one of the most important global public health issues in recorded history. Thanks to recent improved access to antiretroviral treatment in many regions of the world, the death rate from AIDS epidemic has decreased by 64% since its peak in 2004 (1.9 million in 2004, compared to 680 000 in 2020).
How Can You Help Someone Who Has Been Newly Diagnosed with HIV?
There are many things you can do to support a friend or loved one who has been recently diagnosed:
- Supporting Someone with HIV. Listen to their needs, learn about HIV, encourage them to start HIV treatment as soon as possible, and support medication adherence
- Listen. Being diagnosed with HIV is life-changing news. Listen to your loved one and offer your support. Be available to have open, honest conversations about HIV. Follow the lead of the person who is diagnosed with HIV. They may not want to talk about their diagnosis or may not be ready. They may want to connect with you in the same ways they did before they were diagnosed. Do things you did together before their diagnosis; talk about things you talked about before their diagnosis. Show them that you see them as the same person and that they are more than their diagnosis.
- Learn. Educate yourself about HIV: what it is, how it is and is not transmitted, how it is treated, and how people can stay healthy with HIV. Having a solid understanding of HIV is a big step forward in supporting your loved one and reassuring them that HIV is a manageable health condition. Knowledge is empowering, but keep in mind that your friend may not want the information right away.
- Encourage treatment. Some people who are recently diagnosed may find it hard to take that first step to HIV treatment. But there are great benefits to starting treatment as soon as possible after diagnosis. By getting linked to HIV medical care early, starting treatment with HIV medicine (called antiretroviral therapy or ART), adhering to medication, and staying in care, people with HIV can reduce the amount of HIV in their blood to an undetectable level—a level so low that a standard lab test can’t detect it. People with HIV who take HIV medicine exactly as prescribed and get and keep an undetectable viral load can stay live long and healthy lives and will not transmit HIV to their HIV-negative partners through sex. Encourage your loved one to see a doctor and start HIV treatment as soon as possible.
- Support medication adherence. It’s important for people with HIV to take their HIV medicine exactly as prescribed. Ask your loved one what you can do to support them in establishing a medication routine and sticking to it. Also ask what other needs they might have and how you can help them stay healthy. Learn more about treatment adherence and get tips for sticking to a treatment plan.
- Get support. Take care of yourself and get support if you need it. Turn to others for any questions, concerns, or anxieties you may have, so that the person who is diagnosed can focus on taking care of their own health. But always respect the privacy of the loved one with HIV.
If you are the sexual partner of someone who has been diagnosed with HIV, you should also get tested so that you know your own HIV status. If you test negative, talk to your health care provider about PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis), taking HIV medicine to prevent HIV. PrEP is recommended for people at risk of getting HIV, including those who are in a relationship with a partner who has HIV. If you test positive, get connected to HIV treatment and care as soon as possible.
Handling HIV Stigma
HIV stigma refers to irrational or negative attitudes, behaviors, and judgments towards people living with or at risk of HIV. It can negatively affect the health and well-being of people living with HIV by discouraging some individuals from learning their HIV status, accessing treatment, or staying in care. HIV stigma can also affect those at risk of HIV by discouraging them from seeking HIV prevention tools and testing, and from talking openly with their sex partners about safer sex options.
Populations disproportionately affected by HIV are also often affected by stigma due to, among other things, their gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, race/ethnicity, drug use, or sex work.
HIV stigma drives acts of discrimination in all sectors of society, including health care, education, the work place, the justice system, families, and communities.
Breaking down HIV stigma is a critical part of ending the HIV epidemic.