When the first report on the disease to eventually be known as HIV/AIDS came across the evening news on June 5, 1981, perhaps few people – even the doctors and researchers then pioneering the effort to identify and treat the illness – could imagine the global epidemic it would become in the decades ahead. Nearly 40 years later, HIV/AIDS has affected countless millions of lives and claimed more than 30 million souls around the world. Yet, there is hope. In recent years, medical treatments have proven successful in treating HIV/AIDS, and much of the effort in successfully fighting this disease has been propelled by way of education and awareness. Over the years, the numismatic community has launched its own campaigns to help bring more public awareness about the disease and raise funding to find a cure.
Among these awareness efforts in the numismatic community are the multiple coins that have been issued by various nations to help people become more cognizant of HIV/AIDS while honoring and recognizing the many who have been affected by the disease. The first of these HIV/AIDS coins is a special 1994 gold commemorative issued by the Eastern Mediterranean nation of Cyprus. The £20 coin for the “Special Government Fund Against AIDS” features on its obverse the Cypriot coat of arms, while the reverse features a stylized design incorporating two human faces gazing eye to eye toward each other with the word “AIDS” in the lower left corner. The .9155-fine gold coin, designed by Katia Georgiadou, weighs 7.99 grams and has a diameter of 22.1 millimeters, making it roughly similar in size to a United States five-cent nickel. Only 4,000 proofs were struck, so this coin is among the scarcer modern commemoratives around. The coin trades for around $300.
A few years after Cyprus struck its £20 HIV/AIDS gold coin, Cuba followed suit with the production of non-circulating coins honoring the “Fight Against AIDS.” Among these commemoratives is a colorized copper-nickel 1998 1 Peso piece featuring on its reverse a human silhouette emblazoned with the red ribbon internationally symbolic of the campaign to stand up against HIV/AIDS and support those who, along with their caretakers, are fighting the disease. The backdrop of the reverse is splashed with the image of a world map, serving as a reminder that the effort to cure HIV/AIDS is a global cause. The 30-millieter 1 Peso coin, featuring a standard obverse depiction of the Cuban coat of arms within a laurel wreath, saw a mintage of 50,000 pieces and is joined by a larger, heavier 50 Peso gold coin bearing the same obverse and reverse designs, though sans a colorized version of the ribbon. Only 2,000 examples of the Cuban half-ounce 1998 50 Peso Fight Against AIDS proof gold coin were made, and they typically trade for decent premiums over their melt value, with most presently going for $1,000 to $1,200.
In 2000, Canada struck a circulating quarter-dollar aiming to spread awareness of HIV/AIDS while honoring both the people facing the disease and the individuals in the medical field working to find a cure. The 2000 Queen Elizabeth II Quarter, part of the nation’s 12-coin Millennium series, carries on its reverse a Rod of Asclepius and the red ribbon symbolizing the HIV/AIDS effort. The central design elements of the reverse, designed by Annie Wassef, is surrounded with the English-French bilingual inscriptions “CANADA” and “HEALTH 2000 SANTÉ.” Struck from a 100% nickel composition, a total of 34,663,619 pieces were issued for circulation along with nickel-based brilliant uncirculated and sterling silver proof versions, with these selling for approximately $2 and $6.50 apiece, respectively.
More recently, France issued a 2014-dated circulating 2 Euro coin commemorating World AIDS Day, a global public health campaign that the World Health Organization (WHO) first observed on December 1, 1988 to bring greater awareness to HIV and recognize those who had been impacted the disease. The French 2 Euro piece was inspired by Visual AIDS Artist Caucus painter Frank Moore, who in 1991 introduced the iconic red ribbon now inextricably linked with HIV/AIDS awareness and memorial campaigns. The three stylized ribbons on the obverse of this French 2 Euro coin are situated in such a way that the center ribbon, resembling that most commonly associated with the HIV/AIDS campaign, is flanked by two inverted, stylized ribbons resembling two “Vs” representing an eventual victory over the disease. Brilliant uncirculated and proof versions of the coin are colorized to show the central ribbon in its familiar red glory. The bimetallic coin, featuring a nickel-brass center and copper-nickel ring, is inscribed with “1er DÉCEMBRE” recognizing the date each year that World AIDS Day is observed, while the words JOURNÉE MONDIALE CONTRE LE SIDA” translate to “World AIDS Day.” Examples of the coin sell for around $5.
Perhaps in time the number of nations numismatically honoring the heroic fight against HIV/AIDS will grow. Yet, those who wish to build a collection of coins themed around the HIV/AIDS campaign already have the ability to assemble a small but impressive collection of coinage from nations around the world recognizing the epidemic and touchingly memorializing the lives it’s impacted. While 1 million people still die from HIV/AIDS each year, awareness campaigns and incredible advances in medical technology have also allowed more people to bravely manage the disease and live longer, fuller lives. On this World AIDS Day, December 1st, we remember the nearly 38 million people worldwide who are living with HIV/AIDS and hoping for a cure – a dream that inches closer to reality with each passing day.