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Each year, on this first day of December, organizations and individuals around the world plan events to participate in World AIDS Day.

These events highlight the overwhelming number of individuals suffering from HIV/AIDS and honor those who have died. Many organizations also use this time to focus on prevention efforts.

World AIDS Day is rich with a tradition of activism and the history of the movement. The first World AIDS Day took place on Dec. 1, 1988 as the brainchild of James Bunn and Thomas Netter, employees at the World Health Organization. The day was organized by the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) to raise awareness of the AIDS pandemic caused by the spread of HIV.

For 23 years, World AIDS Day has stood as a time to remind people of the AIDS crisis and to remember those who have been lost to HIV/AIDS. Currently, there are 1.2 million Americans living with HIV/AIDS, and more than 37 million people infected worldwide. Between 1980 and 2007, an estimated 24 million people had died of AIDS-related complications.

In the midst of these great losses, there have been some notable victories. In 1987, the first antiretroviral drug was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to slow the progression of HIV. This was followed by the approval of other antiretroviral drugs for additional treatment options.

In 1996, the use of three antiretroviral medications in combination, referred to as Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy, or HAART, became the new treatment standard. HAART revolutionized the treatment of HIV/AIDS as combinations of drugs overwhelmed HIV, keeping it from multiplying and mutating as quickly into drug resistant strains.

In 1996, scientists also developed tests that measure the level of HIV ribonucleic acid, the genetic material of HIV, in the plasma of people with HIV. These tests helped clinicians better monitor how a patient’s infection was advancing, and how they were responding to antiretroviral medications.

Presently, combinations of antiretroviral drugs have become available, reducing the number of pills HIV patients must take everyday. Also, many once-a-day pills are available to make HIV a treatable, yet still chronic, condition.

To celebrate these milestones and pay homage to those we have lost, everyone is urged to take part in World AIDS Day. Here at UNC, rallies and seminars will allow you to learn more and show your support today. There are also free testing events. Roughly one in five Americans infected with HIV does not know they have the virus.

Get tested. Know your status.

Every 12 seconds another person is infected with HIV, and every 16 seconds another life is claimed by AIDS. We know more about HIV now than ever before, giving us more weapons to fight this global threat. Take part in World AIDS Day and show your commitment to stopping the spread of the infection and reducing its toll.

I’m hono(red) to do my part.

Julian Wooten is a graduate student in the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy. Contact him at:

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