Though HIV/AIDS used to be at the center of national attention in decades past, it’s flown under the radar for the past several years. However, approximately 1.2 million people in the United States are living with HIV today. Of this number, a suspected 14% of them don’t know it and still need testing.
Each December is dedicated to HIV/AIDS Awareness Month. This is a time to support educational campaigns, spread science-based information, and fight for accessible and affordable testing and treatment. Unlike other types of diseases, HIV/AIDS face a hefty social stigma. Much of HIV/AIDS awareness month is about defeating this stigma once and for all.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- What's HIV/AIDS Awareness Month?
- When Is HIV/AIDS Awareness Month?
- What Color Is the HIV/AIDS Awareness Ribbon?
- How to Participate During HIV/AIDS Awareness Month
What exactly is HIV/AIDS Awareness Month, and what’s the history behind it? In this guide, we’ll share everything you need to know about this awareness month as well as how to take action in your own community.
What’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Month?
HIV/AIDS Awareness Month is an annual month-long observance. The goal of this month is to spread information about testing and treatment, defeat the stigma around HIV/AIDS, and honor those who have passed on.
Treatment for HIV/AIDS has come a long way in the past decades. It is possible to live a relatively normal life with an HIV/AIDS diagnosis, yet the stigma still affects many from different backgrounds. This month is a time to stand with those currently living with an HIV/AIDS diagnosis as well as to remember those who lost their lives along the way.
Unfortunately, there is a lot of false information around HIV/AIDs, how it’s contracted, and what it means to live with this diagnosis. One of the main initiatives of HIV/AIDS Awareness Month is to shed light on science-based facts, spreading clear, accurate information while debunking myths.
Lastly, this is a time to advocate for early and regular testing, especially for high-risk populations and groups. By bringing accessible and affordable testing to all communities, HIV/AIDS Awareness Month fights for a better future for all.
When Is HIV/AIDS Awareness Month?
HIV/AIDS has had a long history in the United States and the world. It wasn’t always given the attention and funding it deserved, and this is largely associated with the stigma surrounding this disease. The term AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) only began to be used in September 1982 to refer to the cases of severe immune deficiency in New York and California.
It wasn’t until the first high-profile AIDS-related death that funding and activism around HIV/AIDS research began. Actor Rock Hudson died in 1965, leaving a quarter-million dollars to start the American Foundation for AIDS research. In 1987, two public information officers at the World Health Organization started World AIDS Day. This was observed on December 1st.
This soon became a month-long observance amongst HIV/AIDS groups. Each year on World AIDS day, there is a different theme to help spread awareness. Some of the themes in past years include:
- Zero Discrimination (2013)
- Close the Gap (2014)
- On the Fast Track to End AIDS (2015)
- Hands Up for #HIVprevention (2016)
- My Health, My Right (2017)
- Know Your Status (2018)
- Communities Make the Difference (2019)
- Global Solidarity Shared Responsibility (2020)
December as a month carries a lot of significance. First, December represents endings and beginnings. It’s a time to gather together and look ahead at what’s to come. As the final month of the year, it’s a chance to start fresh and fight for real change.
What Color Is the HIV/AIDS Awareness Ribbon?
Wearing a unique colored ribbon is a way to show support in a subtle way, whether you’re taking part in an awareness event or wearing something in memory of someone special. The color for HIV/AIDS awareness is red.
Inspired by the yellow ribbons worn to honor those serving in the Gulf war, members of an organization known as Visual AIDS came together to create their own awareness ribbon. The color red was chosen intentionally. Red is the color of blood, one of the ways HIV/AIDS is transmitted. In addition, red is the color of passion, anger, and love.
Known as the Red Ribbon Project, this campaign in the early 1990s involved sending letters and red ribbons to all attendees at the Tony Awards. Actor Jeremy Irons famously stood on television wearing a red ribbon to show his support.
Today, the red ribbon still is the most noticeable symbol of solidarity and support for those living with HIV and AIDS. Each December, organizations invite people of all backgrounds to wear their red ribbon in support.
How to Participate During HIV/AIDS Awareness Month
There are a number of powerful ways to participate in HIV/AIDS Awareness Month regardless of your experience. December is not the time to stay silent. There still is a large stigma around HIV/AIDS, and the only way to overcome these obstacles is to work together with the following ideas.
The first way to participate during HIV/AIDS Awareness Month is to get tested yourself. Many wrongly assume that HIV/AIDS only affects some populations, such as those in homosexual relationships. In reality, there are a number of ways to come into contact with HIV/AIDS, and everyone should be in the practice of getting tested regularly.
The latest health guidelines recommend everyone between the ages of 13 and 64 should get tested for HIV yearly. To find a testing location near you, visit Help Stop the Virus.
Make a donation
Research has come a long way for those living with HIV/AIDS. Thanks to the efforts of educational and research organizations, HIV infections are on the decline. In 2019, there was a reported 23% decline in new infections since 2010.
This is outstanding progress, and it’s all thanks to donations. If you can, give to a trusted organization. Which organizations are the most trustworthy? Here are some top-ranked picks from Charity Navigator:
- AIDS United: This is a US-based organization dating back to 1988. They’ve created a roadmap to an HIV-free world by 2025.
- Elton John AIDS Foundation: Created by singer Elton John, this foundation fights for an AIDS-free world.
- amFAR: This is one of the world’s leaders in HIV research, collaborating with top institutions and research centers throughout the world.
As we’ve mentioned above, there are still a lot of misunderstandings when it comes to HIV/AIDS. Take time during the month of December to educate yourself about the realities vs. the myths. The World Health Organization is a great source for science-based information.
No matter how big or small your platform is, take action by sharing resources. Share that you plan to get tested for HIV during the month of November, and share resources for how to get tested safely in your community. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a large resource library that’s easy to share on social media or in-person.
Though AIDS-related deaths have declined rapidly, a reported 690,000 people died from AIDS-related illness in 2019 alone. Wearing a black ribbon in honor of someone who passed or donating in someone’s name are both easy ways to honor someone you’ve lost.
Learn about the sigma
The more you understand the stigma around HIV/AIDS, the better equipped you’ll be to fight against it. The stigma around this virus comes from outdated beliefs and a limited understanding of what HIV/AIDS is and where it comes from.
A great way to learn about the stigma is to explore popular films, books, and TV shows about the topic. Some of the best documentaries are How to Survive a Plague (2012) and Common Threads (1989). For informative yet compelling books about HIV/AIDS, try And The Band Played On by Randy Shilts and Borrowed Time by Paul Monette.
Join a community event
Finally, this is a great opportunity to join a community event near you. There are a number of runs, fundraisers, and community events during this time to share resources, raise money, and encourage greater awareness. By joining your community events, you show support when it matters most.
Support HIV/AIDS Research Every Day
While the HIV/AIDS Awareness Month is the best time to support those living with an HIV/AIDS diagnosis, you should always be there for members of this community. Together, we can end the stigma around HIV/AIDS and advocate for a better tomorrow. From reading pandemic books from the 1980s to learning the facts, every step counts.
HIV/AIDS affects everyone. We’ve never been closer to an HIV-free world, so now is the time to take real action to evoke real change. How have you made an impact in your community?
- “AIDS Awareness Month.” National Today. NationalToday.com.
- “Fast Facts.” HIV: US Statistics. HIV.gov.
- “The Global HIV/AIDS Epidemic.” HIV Global Statistics. HIV.gov.
- “Wear your red ribbon this World AIDS Day.” UNAIDS. 30 November 2006. UNAIDS.org.