For as long as I can remember, December 1 has been a day about HIV. But what exactly is the meaning of the day? Is it a day of solemn remembrance, or is it about empowerment and resistance? It would seem that for years institutions have decided what the day is about, what is its narrative or theme. But the time has come for December 1 to evolve into a day for all communities. Renaming December 1 “World HIV Day” is an excellent opportunity to reshape the narrative about the modern epidemic.
You can contribute to that narrative by signing onto the campaign to call December 1 World HIV Day.
There has been a seismic shift in the HIV landscape. Our language should reflect this new world and also stimulate conversations about the state of the epidemic and the challenges our communities still face. AIDS Walks have become Walks to End HIV and even AIDS.gov is now HIV.gov.
AIDS is an archaic and arbitrary term that was created after contentious debate. The first name of GRID (Gay Related Immune Deficiency) created fear and stigma, and a new term was created because a virus had not been discovered and science needed to have a name for this thing that was killing scores of people, mostly gay men. When HIV was discovered, everything changed, and that eventually became the term of reference for the disease.
Yet our language seems to be stuck in the ’80s.
The current story of HIV is that there is no scientific reason people should die from this disease. Science has developed effective treatments that can allow people to achieve an undetectable viral load and live a long healthy life. Thanks to the community efforts of U=U, more and more people understand the basic fact that “undetectable” means it is impossible to transmit the virus. PrEP, the daily HIV prevention pill, is highly effective at preventing HIV and has been a source of groundbreaking community activism that has changed the course of the epidemic, such as in the UK with PrEPster and I Want PrEP Now.
Community actions have changed the epidemic, but there is still a long way to go.
While science and activism have met the challenge of the epidemic, profound structural barriers persist. It can’t be stated enough, there is no scientific reason someone should die from this disease. Deaths are due to social determinants, such as poverty, homophobia, transphobia, racism, sexism or lack of access to health care.
To address the struggles associated with HIV, we will need to be determined and creative, and we’ll need to change the way things have been done in the past. We can demonstrate change with something as simple as the words we use.
World HIV Day is an opportunity to come together in solidarity to confront the complex issues that our communities face. We can stimulate conversation to advance an agenda of equality and social justice. Words have power. Let’s use our words to show the world that this epidemic has changed.
World HIV Day can be a symbol for the adaptability of community led efforts the end this epidemic. Until we have a world without HIV, December 1 can remind us that activism can change the world, that health care and access to treatment and prevention are fundamental rights, and that in this changing world we can change the way we talk about this epidemic.
It’s time for World HIV Day.
Sign onto the campaign to call December 1 World HIV Day.