World AIDS Day 2023: Theme, History and Significance

OV Digital Desk
7 Min Read
World AIDS Day

World AIDS Day is observed every year on December 1 to spread awareness about Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) caused by Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and support those living with the disease. The first-ever World AIDS Day was observed on December 1, 1988. This year, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said that the theme is ‘let communities lead’. The UN body said that the theme has been decided to mark the pivotal impact communities have had in shaping the HIV response.

What is AIDS?

Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) is a chronic, potentially life-threatening condition caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). By damaging your immune system, HIV interferes with your body’s ability to fight infection and disease.

HIV is a sexually transmitted infection (STI). It can also be spread by contact with infected blood and from illicit injection drug use or sharing needles. It can also be spread from mother to child during pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding. Without medication, it may take years before HIV weakens your immune system to the point that you have AIDS.

There’s no cure for HIV/AIDS, but medications can control the infection and prevent progression of the disease. Antiviral treatments for HIV have reduced AIDS deaths around the world, and international organizations are working to increase the availability of prevention measures and treatment in resource-poor countries.


The symptoms of HIV and AIDS vary, depending on the phase of infection.

Primary infection (Acute HIV)

Some people infected by HIV develop a flu-like illness within 2 to 4 weeks after the virus enters the body. This illness, known as primary (acute) HIV infection, may last for a few weeks.

Possible signs and symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches and joint pain
  • Rash
  • Sore throat and painful mouth sores
  • Swollen lymph glands, mainly on the neck
  • Diarrhea
  • Weight loss
  • Cough
  • Night sweats

These symptoms can be so mild that you might not even notice them. However, the amount of virus in your bloodstream (viral load) is quite high at this time. As a result, the infection spreads more easily during primary infection than during the next stage.

Clinical latent infection (Chronic HIV)

In this stage of infection, HIV is still present in the body and in white blood cells. However, many people may not have any symptoms or infections during this time.

This stage can last for many years if you’re receiving antiretroviral therapy (ART). Some people develop more severe disease much sooner.

Symptomatic HIV infection

As the virus continues to multiply and destroy your immune cells — the cells in your body that help fight off germs — you may develop mild infections or chronic signs and symptoms such as:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Swollen lymph nodes — often one of the first signs of HIV infection
  • Diarrhea
  • Weight loss
  • Oral yeast infection (thrush)
  • Shingles (herpes zoster)
  • Pneumonia

Progression to AIDS

Access to better antiviral treatments has dramatically decreased deaths from AIDS worldwide, even in resource-poor countries. Thanks to these life-saving treatments, most people with HIV in the U.S. today don’t develop AIDS. Untreated, HIV typically turns into AIDS in about 8 to 10 years.

When AIDS occurs, your immune system has been severely damaged. You’ll be more likely to develop diseases that wouldn’t usually cause illness in a person with a healthy immune system. These are called opportunistic infections or opportunistic cancers.

The signs and symptoms of some of these infections may include:

  • Sweats
  • Chills
  • Recurring fever
  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Swollen lymph glands
  • Persistent white spots or unusual lesions on your tongue or in your mouth
  • Persistent, unexplained fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Weight loss
  • Skin rashes or bumps

Theme of World AIDS Day 2023

World AIDS Day is observed every year on December 1 since 19881. The date was chosen to maximize media coverage after the US elections and before the Christmas holidays1. Each year, World AIDS Day has a different theme to highlight a specific aspect of the HIV response. The theme for 2023 is ‘let communities lead’.

History of World AIDS Day

World AIDS Day was first conceived in 1987 by two public information officers for the World Health Organization in Geneva, Switzerland. It was created to raise awareness of the AIDS pandemic caused by the spread of HIV infection and to mourn those who have died of the disease.

World AIDS Day is one of the eleven official global public health campaigns marked by the World Health Organization. It brings together nations, communities, and individuals in a shared commitment to end the spread of HIV, ensure universal access to treatment, and support those affected. As of 2020, AIDS has killed between 27.2 million and 47.8 million people worldwide, and an estimated 37.7 million people are living with HIV.

The red ribbon is the universal symbol of awareness and support for people living with HIV2. It was first devised in 1991 by a group of artists in New York as a visual expression of compassion for people living with HIV and AIDS. World AIDS Day also focuses on disseminating accurate information, promoting safe practices, and encouraging regular testing to empower individuals with knowledge and curb the stigma surrounding HIV and AIDS.

Significance of World AIDS Day

World AIDS Day is a moment to reflect on the progress made in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Over the years, advancements in medical research, increased awareness and improved access to treatment have transformed the landscape of HIV/AIDS management. However, the day also prompts contemplation of the persisting challenges and the work that lies ahead.

Despite considerable progress, the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS endures as a major hurdle. World AIDS Day encourages open conversations, challenging misconceptions, and fostering a more supportive environment for those affected.

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