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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Akron chapter.

For many people, December 1st is just the beginning of their countdown to Christmas and the New Year. But for 37.9 million people across the globe, it’s also another day living with HIV/AIDS. According to HIV.gov, “An estimated 1.7 million individuals worldwide became newly infected with HIV in 2018.” 1.6 million of these new infections were among people ages 15 and older, while 160,000 of these infections were among children ages 0-14. It can be hard to wrap your head around these statistics because of the stigmas tied to living with HIV. However, World AIDS Day takes place on December 1st to bring awareness of such stigmas, support those living with HIV, and honor those who have died from AIDS.

World AIDS Day was started in January 1988, despite the AIDS epidemic impacting the socioeconomic lives of thousands in the US since the first reported case in June 1981. This holiday was originally founded in the UK by the World Health Organization due to the growing realization that, unlike other pandemics such as malaria, the spread of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) was not confined to geographic locations. 

Today, World AIDS Day also celebrates the achievements made in the fight against the disease and the improvements made though major scientific advances. 

Before going into prevention of the disease and self care, we need to properly address the difference between HIV and AIDS. Evening Standards defines HIV as, “a virus that damages the cells in the immune system which protects our bodies from fighting infection.” AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) on the other hand is, “the name used to describe a number of potentially life-threatening infections and illnesses that happen when your immune system has been severely damaged by the virus.” 

When the epidemic was first recognized, gay men were falsey singled out as being responsible for the transmission of HIV. Even today, the stigma around HIV is closely linked to homophobia and directed towards individuals living in certain parts of the globe, drug users, and sex workers.

One common misconception is that HIV can only be transmitted through sexual intercourse. And while HIV can spread through semen, it also spreads by blood, breast milk, and other certain body fluids from another person who has HIV (and no, HIV is not spread through saliva). These transmissions can occur through having sex, sharing needles, and can be passed mother-to-baby during pregnancies, breastfeeding, and childbirth. 

Many misconceptions occur when people do not have proper education about the illness, and one of the biggest myths is HIV leads to AIDS which ultimately leads to death. 

On the contrary, “People with HIV who take HIV medicine daily as prescribed and get and keep an undetectable viral load have effectively no risk of sexually transmitting HIV to their HIV-negative partners,” according to HIV.gov

HIV positive individuals must take their medication as prescribed and stay protected during sex, and HIV negative individuals must stay protected during sex and should consider preexposure prophylaxis (PrEP) to reduce their chances of getting the disease. When having sex with new or multiple partners, you should also look for local health clinics to routinely get tested for HIV.

People who discover they have HIV (whether that be weeks or years later) are often shunned, outcasted, and left feeling ashamed, guilty, and living in fear. Approximately 1.1 million people in the United States are living with HIV today. About 15 percent (or 1 in 7) of them are not aware they are living with HIV. This means approximately 165,000 people in the U.S. do not know that have it. To make matters worse, the people living with HIV may also have a lack of education and resources because of it. Discrimination from work and social life does further harm. This leads to people not going to get treated, and further internalizing the stigma.

SO, let’s talk it out and take action. World AIDS Day brings light to a disease that is far from being eradicated, and even when World AIDS Day ends, everyone should take a step closer to helping each other. Correct the misconceptions and learn from one another! Be safe and don’t be afraid to reach out for support from friends, family, counselors, or health clinics. Remember the ones who fought, and remember that fight is far from over. 

I graduated from the University of Akron in 2019 majoring in Communications of Public Relations with a minor in Biology. Aspiring writer/journalist for wildlife conservation. (She/Her)
Madeline Myers is a 2020 graduate of the University of Akron. She has a B.A. English with a minor in Creative Writing. At Her Campus, Madeline enjoys writing movie and TV reviews. Her personal essay “Living Room Saloon” is published in the 2019 issue of The Ashbelt. Madeline grew up in Zanesville, Ohio. She loves quoting comedians, reading James Baldwin, and sipping on grape soda. She fears a future run by robots but looks forward to the day when her stories are read by those outside of her immediate family.