World AIDS Day red ribbon (source: worldaidsday.org)

It’s been almost 30 years since the first cases of AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) were identified among gay men in the United States in 1981. Later evidence was found that the disease existed in the world long before that and that it had nothing to do with the sexual preferences of the people infected. Analysis of a blood sample of a Bantu man, who died of an unidentified illness in the Belgian Congo in 1959, made him the first confirmed case of an HIV infection. Today, there is still no cure for AIDS.

HIV is a virus that attacks the body’s immune system – the body’s defense against diseases. By reducing a person’s immune system the person’s body becomes susceptible to all kind of infections and tumors that would otherwise not be life threatening. In this HIV and AIDS are not the same thing. Someone “living with HIV” has the virus in his or her body but has not developed the disease yet; the immune system is still intact. A person who has developed AIDS has a weakened immune system and can no longer fight against a range of diseases with which the body would normally cope.

World AIDS Day, celebrated on December 1st every year, wants to raise awareness about the AIDS pandemic, a result of the spread of the HIV infection. According to the UNAIDS online platform (the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS) worldwide 33,4 million people are living with HIV, amongst them 2,1 million children under the age of 15. 2,6 million of those people (men, women and children) where infected in 2009, 28 years after the first diagnoses of the disease. Between 1981 and 2007, 25 million people worldwide died from AIDS, making it one of the most destructive epidemics in recorded history.

One of the biggest myths surrounding HIV is that it would no longer be a serious issue or disease. This couldn’t be farther than the truth. More people than ever are living with HIV throughout the world and remember there is still no cure for AIDS.

Additional resources:
History of AIDS page
World AIDS day website
Wikipedia page dedicated to AIDS