World AIDS Day 2012

*The following blog post was written by Curatorial Volunteer Rebecca Jemmett.


What is World Aids Day?

December 1st 2012 will mark the 24th year of World AIDS Day. Beginning in 1988, Worlds AIDS Day was the first ever global health day. It aims to support people around the world who have been affected by HIV and remember those who were lost to the virus. The World AIDS Day initiative works to eradicate the stigma surrounding the virus and to raise awareness and funds for prevention and research.

What is HIV/AIDS?

Human Immunodeficiency Virus, more commonly known as HIV, is a virus that attacks the body’s immune system, necessary for the human body to fight disease. Between 1981 and 2007, approximately 25 million people died from the virus worldwide[1] – it has been one of the most devastating viruses in history. Current global estimates for people living with HIV are approximately 33.3 million.[2] More problematic, Human Immunodeficiency Virus causes the more devastating Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome, also known as AIDS.

The History

In 1998, researchers discovered the first known case of AIDS. It was found in a Bantu man from the Democratic Republic of Congo who died in 1959.[3] In 1999, a team of researchers headed by Paul Sharp of NottinghamUniversity and Beatrice Hahn of the University of Alabama discovered the origin of the HIV virus that causes AIDS. They discovered that HIV is a descendent of a Simian Immunodeficiency Virus, frequently found in chimpanzees in western and central Africa. By transferring to humans via zoonosis (a viral transfer between humans and animals), the human population became susceptible to HIV and therefore to AIDS as well.

HIV/AIDS was not a very prevalent disease until the latter half of the twentieth century. Before the 1970’s the virus was believed to primarily exist in Africa and Haiti, likely entering the United States around 1970. In 1981, AIDS was detected in California and New York. The following year several infections were reported throughout countries in Europe. The first Canadian was diagnosed with the disease in 1982; since then, approximately 21,000 people have died in Canada while infected with the virus or disease[4]. In these early years, the disease was understood initially to affect men who had sex with other men and intravenous drug users, but soon women and children also reported infection.  Three thousand cases were reported in the US in 1983, with one in every three cases resulting in death.[5] Then, in 1984, research proved HIV to be the cause of AIDS. By 1985 AIDS was reported in all parts of the world; fortunately, in that same year an HIV test was licensed for screening blood supplies.

Mobile Needle Exchange, Berkeley California

From its early beginnings, global trends have emerged in attempts to reduce the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Initiatives to promote safer sexual behaviour, education for safe needle use, and medical research are just some examples of the steps taken to reduce the prevalence of the disease.  For example, in 1984, the world’s first Needle Exchange program was established in Amsterdam. Such measures attempt to prevent the spread of blood-borne viruses by providing clean needles for drug injection. The aim is to reduce the spread of such disease while also educating users about safe injection practice and proper equipment disposal.  Significantly, by 1987 the first drug, AZT, was approved for treating AIDs.

ELISA test - World AIDS Day
Diagram of the Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay process.The HIV condition is treatable, but early detection is crucial in order to be most effective. Testing involves detecting antibodies to HIV or the genetic material (DNA or RNA) of HIV in the blood, saliva or other samples from the body. Different kinds of tests involve Enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA), Western Blot, Polymerase chain reaction (PCR).

By the 1990s, the global community was no longer ignorant about HIV and AIDS and steps were slowly being taken to curb their spread. In 1993, the number of reported cases of AIDS in Canada peaked, never to be that high again. Despite these achievements, the disease still spreads and the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS continues to persist. With the global effort of World Aid’s Day and initiatives alike, the world is working to drop infection rates down to zero.


[1] “About World AIDS Day,” Accessed November 26, 2012,

[2] “About World AIDS Day,” Accessed November 26, 2012,

[3] “Sci/Tech Aids origin ‘discovered’,” BBC News, February 1, 1999. Accessed November 26, 2012.

[4] Public Health Agency of Canada, “A Brief History of HIV/AIDS in Canada,” Last modified September 25, 2007, Accessed November 26, 2012,

[5] AVERTing HIV and AIDS,  “AIDS Timeline,” 2012, Accessed November 26, 2012,


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