World AIDs Day 2012: The Photo that Humanized the Disease

World AIDS Day is held on 1 December each year. It started in 1988 as a day when people of the world could unite in the fight against HIV, show their support for people living with HIV, and to commemorate those people who have died from HIV /AIDS. World AIDS Day was the first ever global health day.

To honor the day, Yahoo posted this image, which was taken at a time when there was still much fear, confusion and misinformation surrounding AIDS. It originally ran in the November 1990 issue of LIFE magazine. As the Yahoo post states, it showed David Kirby, “his body wasted by AIDS, his gaze locked on something beyond this world — surrounded by anguished family members as he took his last breaths. The haunting image of Kirby on his death bed, taken by a journalism student named Therese Frare, quickly became the one photograph most powerfully identified with the HIV/AIDS epidemic that, by then, had seen millions of people infected (many of them unknowingly) around the globe.”

More than two decades later, LIFE.com has posted the deeply moving story behind that picture as well as others from that day, along with Frare’s own memories of those harrowing, transformative years. You can read about it here.

The CDC estimates that more than 1.1 million people in the United States are living with HIV. Nearly one in five of those people are unaware of their infection. Currently, blacks/African Americans face the most severe burden of HIV. Globally, there is an estimated 34 million people living with HIV. More than 25 million people between 1981 and 2007 have died from the virus, making it one of the most destructive pandemics in history.

While there have been many scientific advances in HIV treatment, and there are laws to protect people living with HIV, many still do not know the facts about how to protect themselves and others from HIV. Stigma and discrimination remain a reality for many people living with HIV. As the WAD site explains, “World AIDS Day is important as it reminds the public and Government that HIV has not gone away – there is still a vital need to raise money, increase awareness, fight prejudice and improve education.”

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