December 12, 2007
In 1987, Jim Bunn, a press officer at the World Health Organization in Geneva, conceived the idea of World AIDS Day while editing a speech on AIDS for WHO's director-general. Bunn said that many world leaders avoided talking about AIDS at the time, when it was still a relatively new disease about which little was known.
"It was to put out, if you will, a big umbrella and put everybody into the tent, and say this is a problem that is worldwide," Bunn noted. "We wanted to say to countries, 'If you don't have the signs of the epidemic in your country yet, you will. And you need to be aware of it and you need to be prepared for it.'"
Bunn and his WHO colleagues created a press kit for the first World AIDS Day on December 1, 1987, and sent it to media outlets and to community-based groups and non-governmental organizations that were responding to the crisis.
"The idea was to suggest to these organizations, and churches, how you could bring attention to AIDS in your community," Bunn said. "Our hope was that this would become something that eventually the World Health Organization would have nothing to do with and it would take on its own life."
And, Bunn said, that's exactly what happened. The event did garner its own momentum and raised public awareness of the disease. World AIDS Day encouraged activists to put pressure on governments to acknowledge and respond to the epidemic, Bunn believes, and helped foster the current worldwide acknowledgement of AIDS.
Although the epidemic has changed over the past twenty years, Bunn said the annual observance is still important to remind people of the continuing problem, the need to care for those who are sick, and the vulnerabilities of at-risk populations.