The battle is far from over: Reflections on World AIDS Day

It’s been 33 years since my first World AIDS Day, designated 1 December by the United Nations.

This day has become a powerful advocacy event for HIV prevention and education and a protagonist against stigma and bigotry. 

At the first World AIDS Day, a person living with HIV had a very short life expectancy. 

Now, 33 years later, we have antiretroviral treatments that mean people living with HIV can survive and thrive into old age. 

My first World AIDS Day was a sad one as we attended Peter’s cremation. 

A young man, only 23 years old.

His parents and siblings clung to us for emotional support because, as HIV/AIDS carers, we had been a vital part of Peter’s life. 

That same afternoon at a country fair, we set up a trestle with a display of three AIDS quilts made by families in memory of their young sons. 

It was the first time many people interacted openly with us gays and lesbians, even forming networks and building trust. 

After all these years, Peter’s family are still grassroots activists promoting World AIDS Day and preserving their memories and love of those lost.

On World AIDS Day 1991, we wore our red ribbons for the first time. 

They were not just red ribbons but genuine leather, handmade by leather men in Melbourne – they sure got attention because they were stylish, not kitsch. 

Today, we still wear the red ribbon, the global symbol of HIV/AIDS, supporting people living with HIV and in remembrance of those who have died.

In Australia today, HIV/AIDS is almost a passing memory; World AIDS Day is a commemoration in danger of becoming a perfunctory event. 

Despite this, the battle is far from over. 

Forty years since the first AIDS case was diagnosed in 1981, about 38 million people live today with HIV. 

A staggering 35 million people have died of HIV- or AIDS-related illnesses, making it one of the most destructive pandemics.

The recent emergence of COVID-19 has put friends with HIV at greater health risk if infected.

While we remember World AIDS Day, we could all do our part as we did during the early days of the AIDS pandemic, practising hygiene and social distancing and getting vaccinated like our life depends on it – because it does.

The UNAIDS theme for World AIDS Day 2021 is End Inequalities. End AIDs. End Pandemics.

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