Multi-color magazine spread showing 200 stamp-like pictures of chairs with names of AIDS victims in the fashion industry

Visualizing World AIDS Day

By Ginny A. Roth ~

Annually on December 1st, World AIDS Day energizes the public to unite in the fight against AIDS and to commemorate those individuals who have lost their lives to the disease. Founded in 1988, World AIDS Day was the first ever global health day.

The AIDS and HIV collection is one of the most comprehensive and utilized of the National Library of Medicine (NLM)’s historical prints and photographs collections. It consists of posters and a wide range of ephemera including pamphlets, postcards, bookmarks, pins, comic books, ribbons, and stickers. This collection is unique in its variety of outreach and educational materials, diversity of target audiences, and international reach. One example among many now available to researchers is a leaflet shaped like a bleach bottle (below). It was developed to be distributed to IV drug users to educate them on how to properly clean syringes and improve the safety of sharing needles.

Bleach-shaped leaflet that opens to instructions on how to clean a syringe with bleach and water
Die-cut leaflet in the shape of a bleach bottle with instructions on how to clean a syringe with bleach and water.
National Library of Medicine #101716726

We prioritized cataloging and digitizing this collection as part of an overall NIH initiative to increase awareness of and disseminate information about AIDS and HIV. Currently, approximately 2/3 of the collection (nearly 2,000 items) is fully processed. Prints & Photographs staff cataloged, digitized, and have made these items available in NLM Digital Collections. We have now processed the remaining ~1000 items, all of which will soon be available in NLM Digital Collections.

Moving forward, we continue to acquire and make available new HIV and AIDS-related materials and identify related materials in unprocessed collections. Here is a gallery of images on the topics of HIV and AIDS recently added to the Images from the History of Medicine collection in NLM Digital Collections.

World AIDS Day messages and toolkits are available online with the Centers for Disease Control, the Food and Drug Administration, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and across other Health and Human Services departments. Read the NIH Statement on World AIDS Day 2019.

To see more images related to HIV/AIDS visit the Images from the History of Medicine (IHM) database on NLM Digital Collections and the Surviving and Thriving exhibition online Digital Gallery.


Ginny A. Roth is the Curator of Prints & Photographs in the History of Medicine Division at the National Library of Medicine.


  1. Yes, but we need to keep up with the times. If someone is HIV positive and not yet ill, they should not be getting free housing, free tuition, free massages, etc. Benefits are for sick people, not healthy people. There are many diseases and many people who are in extreme need. Taking benefits as a healthy HIV positive person is disgraceful, selfish, and beyond words. There is not enough to go around and there are disabled people dying on the sidewalks. Wait until you are sick, if you ever get sick.

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