First World AIDS Day Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

World AIDS Day was created as a global response to the crises surrounding the HIV-AIDS pandemic. An international meeting of health ministers unanimously approved the adoption of the day of commemoration and education, and they did so also to counter the common belief that AIDS was a “gay disease.”

Summary of Event

In January, 1988, the World Summit of Ministers of Health on Programmes for AIDS Prevention World Summit of Ministers of Health on Programmes for AIDS Prevention AIDS Prevention, World Summit of Ministers of Health on Programmes for met in London, with representatives from 140 national governments. The conference was the first broad admission by national governments in an international setting that AIDS was a serious world health problem that needed to be addressed and confronted. The idea for a World AIDS Day came out of this meeting, and the first event was held on December 1, 1988. Each year since, December 1 has been recognized as World AIDS Day. [kw]First World AIDS Day (Dec. 1, 1988) [kw]World AIDS Day, First (Dec. 1, 1988) [kw]AIDS Day, First World (Dec. 1, 1988) World AIDS Day HIV-AIDS[HIV AIDS];World AIDS Day Education;World AIDS Day [c]HIV-AIDS;Dec. 1, 1988: First World AIDS Day[1880] [c]Organizations and institutions;Dec. 1, 1988: First World AIDS Day[1880] [c]Civil rights;Dec. 1, 1988: First World AIDS Day[1880] [c]Health and medicine;Dec. 1, 1988: First World AIDS Day[1880] [c]Marches, protests, and riots;Dec. 1, 1988: First World AIDS Day[1880]

“Stop AIDS. Keep the Promise.” World AIDS Day poster, 2005.

(Courtesy, World AIDS Campaign)

International collaboration against AIDS had been exceedingly slow. The London meeting happened approximately eight years after AIDS had been recognized among gay men in California and New York. Because AIDS had been identified first as a disease affecting a stigmatized group, resources against the illness were mobilized slowly. Ronald Reagan, then president of the United States, did not speak about AIDS publicly until September of 1985, when he made a brief statement in response to a reporter’s question. His first public speech that mentioned AIDS was in February of 1986, by which time there had been about sixteen thousand deaths from AIDS in the United States alone.

In May, 1988, the Forty-first World Health Assembly, World Health Assembly (1988) in Geneva, Switzerland, passed resolution WHA41.24 (“Avoidance of Discrimination in Relation to HIV-infected People and People with AIDS”). At this assembly, the Global Programme on AIDS of the World Health Organization Global Programme on AIDS, World Health Organization (WHO) endorsed the London Declaration on AIDS Prevention London Declaration on AIDS Prevention (1988) (passed by the World Summit of Ministers of Health on Programmes for AIDS Prevention in 1988), which had determined that World AIDS Day should be held every year in December.

Further support for World AIDS Day came on October 27, 1988, when the United Nations United Nations;and World AIDS Day[World AIDS Day] General Assembly passed a resolution providing support and publicity for both WHO’s earlier resolution and the original London Declaration of World AIDS Day.


The international resolutions gave credibility to the concept of World AIDS Day. The first event had the theme “A World United Against AIDS.” In the United States, the resolutions seemed to make it clear that the federal government intended to help fund AIDS research and to publicize information about AIDS prevention and treatment. AIDS activists, AIDS activism however, had been so disturbed by the federal government’s indifference to the epidemic and lack of care concerning the disease that many showed their frustrations on World AIDS Day instead of using the day as a solemn reminder of the disease and its effects.

Still, organizations and individuals joined together to promote HIV-AIDS awareness and to encourage speedier governmental action in approving treatment options. Also, the NAMES Project Foundation’s AIDS Memorial Quilt AIDS Memorial Quilt;and World AIDS Day[World AIDS Day] was exhibited for the first time in conjunction with World AIDS Day. Quilt panels have been displayed in cities around the United States and the world.

During the third World AIDS Day, in 1990, public attention focused on women and HIV and the increasing cases of AIDS among women (African American women have been especially affected). Many activists had argued for years that women and girls were being ignored and forgotten by AIDS education, prevention, and treatment programs.

World AIDS Day is always a political event, and this was especially the case after the World AIDS Day conference of 1994, when U.S. surgeon general Surgeon general, U.S. Joycelyn Elders Elders, Joycelyn resigned. Elders had spoken publicly about sex education in schools and included what turned out to be a controversial suggestion that masturbation was healthy and should perhaps be included in sex education classes as a way to prevent HIV and AIDS. When her remarks were publicized, she was urged by President Clinton to resign and thus lost her job.

By 1995, there had been some improvements in HIV-AIDS prevention and treatment, but the disease had become the highest ranked cause of death among Americans ages twenty-five to forty-four. The illness continues to affect African Americans at rates higher than other groups. Stigma against HIV infection and against those with AIDS persists, although prejudice has diminished somewhat through the years. World AIDS Day has played a role in this progress. World AIDS Day HIV-AIDS[HIV AIDS];World AIDS Day Education;World AIDS Day

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Feldman, Douglas A., ed. Global Aids Policy. Westport, Conn.: Bergin & Garvey, 1994.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Grmek, Mirko D. History of AIDS: Emergence and Origin of a Modern Pandemic. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1993.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Jennings, M. Kent, and Ellen Ann Anderson. “The Importance of Social and Political Context: The Case of AIDS Activism.” Political Behavior 25, no. 2 (2003): 177-199.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Smith, Raymond A., ed. Encyclopedia of AIDS: A Social, Political, Cultural, and Scientific Record of the HIV Epidemic. New York: Penguin Books, 2001.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Stockdill, Brett C. Activism Against AIDS: At the Intersections of Sexuality, Race, Gender, and Class. Boulder, Colo.: Lynne Rienner, 2003.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Willinger, Barbara I., and Alan Rice, eds. A History of AIDS Social Work in Hospitals: A Daring Response to an Epidemic. New York: Haworth Press, 2003.

August 8, 1978: International Lesbian and Gay Association Is Founded

June 5 and July 3, 1981: Reports of Rare Diseases Mark Beginning of AIDS Epidemic

July, 1982: Gay-Related Immunodeficiency Is Renamed AIDS

Spring, 1984: AIDS Virus Is Discovered

July 25, 1985: Actor Hudson Announces He Has AIDS

September, 1986: AZT Treats People with AIDS

March, 1987: Radical AIDS Activist Group ACT UP Is Founded

June 27, 1988: Report of the Presidential AIDS Commission

1990: International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission Is Founded

June 25, 1993: Clinton Appoints First AIDS Czar

September 16, 1994: U.N. Revokes Consultative Status of International Lesbian and Gay Association

June 17, 1995: International Bill of Gender Rights Is First Circulated

October 9-12, 1998: First International Retreat for Lesbian and Gay Muslims Is Held

Categories: History