Thursday, 1 December 2011

World AIDS Day

Millions of people will be wearing red ribbons today, and thousands of vigils and collections will take place to help raise awareness of AIDS. There is still a large portion of society who believe that AIDS is the “gay man’s disease”. It isn’t. More “straight” people have AIDS.

Lots of different elements came together to create the first World AIDS Day in 1988. For me the defining origins can be traced to 2 very different sources – members of the General Synod of the Church of England, and a journalist at KPIX-TV in San Francisco.

There were many AIDS charities in existence before 1988 but very few outside the lgbt community which aimed at educating the world that everyone was at risk. In 1986 Barnaby Miln, a gay member of the Church of England General Synod, helped to found Christian Action on AIDS which worked with the Church of England. He created the first AIDS awareness ribbon, a short rainbow ribbon, which was worn by many at the 1986 General Synod. It was inspired by the rainbow flags in San Francisco which Miln had seen during an AIDS conference there earlier in the year. This ribbon didn’t gain popularity outside church circles, probably because of the anti-Christian attitudes of many in the lgbt community who weren’t aware of the work being done in their support. At the 1987 synod Miln suggested a specific day should be chosen to raise awareness of the disease.

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, the journalist James W. Bunn created a community-based AIDS education project in early 1986 called AIDS Lifeline. He, too, came up with the idea of an annual day of awareness, specifically suggesting 1st December. Through his work on AIDS Lifeline Bunn was invited to become public information officer for the Global Programme on AIDS, what is now the UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), in 1987.

Another key player in the creation of World AIDS Day is Dr. Jonathan Mann, director of the Global Programme on AIDS. Dr. Mann and James Bunn worked together closely, so Mann was aware of Bunn’s suggestion. Mann was also a member of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s working party on AIDS with Barnaby Miln, and was also aware of Miln’s suggestion. Mann liked the idea and wheels were set in motion to get the idea up and running for 1988.

With the help of Thomas Netter, Dr Mann and James Bunn came up with the first World AIDS Day on 1st December 1988. At the inaugural observance in Geneva all the contributing originators were present – Mann, Bunn, Miln and Netter.

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