World AIDS Day 2017

Posted by Christine Happel, Ph.D on Nov 29, 2017 10:00:00 AM

world-aids-day.jpgDecember 1st is World AIDS Day. Each year, this day is an opportunity to raise awareness of the AIDS pandemic, unite in the fight against HIV, and remember those lost to an AIDS-related illness. The 2017 World AIDS Day theme is “Increasing Impact through Transparency, Accountability, and Partnerships”. This theme reflects a shift in attitude from crisis toward control, and the role of partnerships in reaching our collective goals.

HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. It is a virus that targets the immune system and weakens the body’s ability to fight off infection. There are two key tests used to manage HIV. Viral load tests measure the number of virus particles in the blood while CD4 counts measure the body’s reaction to the virus. CD4+ T cells are the primary targets of HIV and CD4 tests measure the number of CD4+ T cells in the blood to gauge the strength of the immune system. The combination of viral load measurement and CD4 counts provide information regarding progression of the disease. There are three stages of HIV infection: 1) acute HIV infection, (2) clinical latency, and (3) AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome)3. Acute HIV infection is the initial 2-4 week infection period after infection where people may experience flu-like symptoms and are considered very contagious. Clinical latency is the period where people may not have any symptoms and viral load tests show a low level of HIV. Asymptomatic HIV infection can last for decades or longer. The most advanced stage of HIV infection is (AIDS). At this stage, opportunistic infections or cancer can take advantage of a weak immune system.3

There is no cure for HIV infection. However, effective anti-retroviral therapy (ART) can control the virus and prevent transmission so that people with HIV can enjoy healthy, long, productive lives. ART reduces the HIV viral load in the body to below detectable levels and maintains a status of clinical latency. A recent CDC announcement dated September 27, 2017, declared that people living with HIV on ART, who maintain an undetectable viral load, have effectively no risk of HIV transmission.2

HIV continues to be a major global public health issue. At the end of 2016, there are approximately 36.7 million people living with HIV, with 1.8 million people becoming newly infected in 2016.1 Progress has been made over the past 15 years. Between 2000 and 2016, new HIV infections fell by 39% and by 2016 19.5 million people living with HIV were receiving ART globally.1 But there is still much work to do. It is currently estimated that only 70% of people with HIV know their status.1 And only 54% of adults living with HIV are currently on ART.1

On September 25, 2015 at a historic UN summit, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the 17 Sustainable Development Goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.4 The UN Sustainable Development Goals are a new set of goals that universally apply to all with the goal of improving the lives of people everywhere. One of the goals in this resolution is to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages. Within this goal, the international community commits to ending the AIDS pandemic by 2030. The general framework for action within this goal includes universal health coverage, a continuum of services and a public health approach. The World Health Organization (WHO) HIV strategy for 2016-2021 to achieve these ambitious goals is outlined in five strategic directions that guide priority actions.5 The WHO recommendations for HIV interventions for impact include:

  • defining essential HIV services and treatments,
  • reducing HIV vulnerability and transmission,
  • and expanding HIV testing and ART while managing chronic conditions.

The WHO implementation strategy depends on a concerted action bringing together different countries, constituencies and organizations in a coordinated effort to eradicate HIV.5 Research and innovation will provide the tools and knowledge to accelerate progress, improve efficiency and maximize impact.

On World AIDS Day you can show solidarity with the millions of people living with HIV by wearing a red ribbon to symbolize HIV awareness. Other ways to get involved in HIV-related efforts include: reaching out to local HIV service organizations, promoting HIV education, getting involved in your community and engaging with others, or donating to organizations that are committed to fighting the HIV pandemic.

The NIH-AIDS Reagent Program (ARP), supported by Fisher BioServices, has served the HIV/AIDS community for almost 30 years and was established to provide critical research reagents and resources to the scientific community. The ARP acquires and produces state-of-the-art reagents and provides these reagents at no cost to qualified investigators in over 2,900 labs in 60 different countries. The ARP is supported by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. On World AIDS Day, ARP joins the international community in its commitment to end the AIDS pandemic.

Public health research sets out to prevent or change the course of disease; specific diseases have in turn provoked changes in the course and nature of public health research and practice. Download our eBook, The Evolution of Public Health Research, to read about some of the dramatic changes that have occurred over the past 125 years.

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  1. World Health Organization. “HIV/AIDS”. Fact sheet. July 2017.  
  2. McCray, E. and Mermin, J. H. “Dear Colleague: September 27, 2017”. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 27 September 17. 
  3. CDC. “HIV/AIDS Basics”. 30 May 2017.  
  4. United Nations. “Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”. General Assembly resolution 70/1, A/RES/70/1. 21 October 2015. Available from 
  5. World Health Organization. “Global Health Sector Strategy on HIV 2016-2021”. WHO/HIV/2016.05. July 2016.