World AIDS Vaccine Day

World AIDS Vaccine Day, also known as HIV Vaccine Awareness Day, is observed annually on May 18. HIV vaccine advocates mark the day by promoting the continued urgent need for a vaccine to prevent HIV infection and AIDS. They acknowledge and thank the thousands of volunteers, community members, health professionals, supporters and scientists who are working together to find a safe and effective AIDS vaccine and urge the international community to recognize the importance of investing in new technologies as a critical element of a comprehensive response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

AIDS/HIV  (Human immunodeficiency virus infection and acquired immune deficiency syndrome)  is a spectrum of conditions caused by infection with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Following initial infection, a person may not notice any symptoms or may experience a brief period of influenza-like illness.  Typically, this is followed by a prolonged period with no symptoms. As the infection progresses, it interferes more with the immune system, increasing the risk of common infections like tuberculosis, as well as other opportunistic infections, and tumors that rarely affect people who have working immune systems. These late symptoms of infection are referred to as AIDS. This stage is often also associated with weight loss.

HIV is spread primarily by unprotected sex (including anal and oral sex), contaminated blood transfusions, hypodermic needles, and from mother to child during pregnancy, delivery, or breastfeeding. Some bodily fluids, such as saliva and tears, do not transmit HIV. Methods of prevention include safe sex, needle exchange programs, treating those who are infected, and male circumcision. Disease in a baby can often be prevented by giving both the mother and child antiretroviral medication. There is no cure or vaccine; however, antiretroviral treatment can slow the course of the disease and may lead to a near-normal life expectancy. Treatment is recommended as soon as the diagnosis is made. Without treatment, the average survival time after infection is 11 years.

In 2015 about 37.3 million people were living with HIV and it resulted in 1.2 million deaths. Most of those infected live in sub-Saharan Africa.  Between its discovery and 2014 AIDS has caused an estimated 39 million deaths worldwide.HIV/AIDS is considered a pandemic—a disease outbreak which is present over a large area and is actively spreading. HIV is believed to have originated in west-central Africa during the late 19th or early 20th century. AIDS was first recognized by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 1981 and its cause—HIV infection—was identified in the early part of the decade.

HIV/AIDS has had a great impact on society, both as an illness and as a source of discrimination.  The disease also has large economic impacts. There are many misconceptions about HIV/AIDS such as the belief that it can be transmitted by casual non-sexual contact.The disease has become subject to many controversies involving religion including the Catholic Church’s decision not to support condom use as prevention. It has attracted international medical and political attention as well as large-scale funding since it was identified in the 1980s.

The concept of World AIDS Vaccine Day is rooted in a May 18, 1997 commencement speech at Morgan State University made by then-President Bill Clinton. Clinton challenged the world to set new goals in the emerging age of science and technology and develop an AIDS vaccine within the next decade stating, “Only a truly effective, preventive HIV vaccine can limit and eventually eliminate the threat of AIDS.” The first World AIDS Vaccine Day was observed on May 18, 1998 to commemorate the anniversary of Clinton’s speech, and the tradition continues today. Each year communities around the globe hold a variety of activities on World AIDS Vaccine Day to raise awareness for AIDS vaccines, educate communities about HIV prevention and research for an AIDS vaccine and bring attention to the ways in which ordinary people can be a part of the international effort to stem the pandemic.

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