World AIDS Day

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World AIDS Day

Type of Holiday: Promotional
Date of Observation: December 1
Where Celebrated: Worldwide
Symbols and Customs: Activism, Education, Fundraising, Memorial Ceremonies
Colors: The color red is associated with AIDS awareness campaigns. It is particularly featured in the looped red ribbons that have become a global symbol of AIDS awareness, remembrance, and activism.


World AIDS Day was created by the World Health Organization and the United Nations General Assembly. The day is observed on December 1 to increase international awareness of HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) and AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome), and to promote greater social tolerance and understanding of the issues faced by people living with the disease. More than sixty-five million people have been infected with HIV, and over twenty-five million people have died of AIDS worldwide since the first cases were diagnosed in 1981. The World Health Organization forecasts more than 117 million additional deaths from AIDS by 2030. World AIDS Day draws attention to the seriousness of HIV/AIDS and its impact on a global scale. Since the first observance of World AIDS Day in 1988, it has become one of the most widely recognized international health awareness campaigns.

In planning activities and programs for World AIDS Day each year, governmental agencies and independent nonprofit organizations join together to strengthen international efforts that address the worldwide AIDS pandemic. World AIDS Day programming typically focuses on ACTIVISM , EDUCATION , and FUNDRAISING in order to raise public awareness of, and engagement with, the problem of AIDS worldwide. In addition, those who have died of AIDS are remembered in MEMORIAL CER EMONIES held on World AIDS Day.



World AIDS Day encourages members of the general public to participate in such activist events as marches, rallies, and demonstrations. These events typically include speeches calling for improved health care and treatment for those with AIDS. Other forms of individual action commonly include volunteerism and street outreach, which supports the one-to-one education of the general public, especially youth and members of medically underserved and vulnerable populations. Outreach programs directed at politicians and members of the media may include activities such as letter writing campaigns and phone banks.


Educational programs are a key component of World AIDS Day observances. These programs take a variety of forms, often including workshops, seminars, public presentations, panel discussions, health fairs, and public service announcements or advertisements. Mobile HIV testing facilities are a common feature of World AIDS Day observances.


Special events are commonly held on World AIDS Day to raise money for charitable organizations that assist people living with HIV/AIDS. Any manner of event may be held in conjunction with World AIDS Day, with a wide range of possibilities including art exhibits, fashion shows, musical performances, theater performances, dances, sporting events, film screenings, private parties, and so on.

Memorial Ceremonies

Candlelight memorial ceremonies are often held on World AIDS Day to remember those who have died of AIDS. Some memorial ceremonies include the display of sections of the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt (, which is regarded as the largest ongoing community arts project in the world. Currently containing more than 40,000 individual squares-each representing someone who has died of AIDS-the quilt is composed entirely of personal memorials created and contributed by volunteers.


Henderson, Helene, ed. Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2005.


U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

World Health Organization, Regional Office for Southeast Asia

World AIDS Day

December 1
In order to promote more social tolerance and a greater awareness of HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) and AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome), the World Health Organization (WHO) declared December 1 as World Aids Day in 1988. Every year various global agencies, including the American Association for World Health, take the lead in coordinating this day and in educating people about HIV/AIDS, which has claimed nearly 22 million lives in the 20 years since the first AIDS cases were diagnosed.
In the United States, local communities, organizations, and schools have observed World AIDS Day by displaying sections of the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt, each square of which represents an individual who has died of AIDS; exhibiting their own artwork focusing on the AIDS crisis; disseminating education and prevention materials; collecting personal care and food items for centers that serve AIDS patients; and holding candlelight memorial services, among many other events.
World Health Organization
20 Ave. Appia
Geneva, 1211 Switzerland
41-22-791-2111; fax: 41-22-791-3111
HolSymbols-2009, p. 1056
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World AIDS Day is recognized internationally by a red ribbon, which symbolizes the global unity in the fight against the virus.
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