World AIDS Day was founded in 1988 and was the first-ever global health day — laying the crucial groundwork for a nationwide fight to combat HIV/AIDS. Since then, December 1st has symbolized a day for people across the globe to unite in the fight against HIV, to show support for people living with HIV, and to commemorate those who have died from AIDS-related illnesses. December 1st is also a day dedicated to raising awareness and fighting stigma and discrimination associated with the global pandemic. Below are 26 key dates linked to HIV/AIDS that provide insights into the timeline of the epidemic, remind us how far we have come, and how far we still have to go in our fight for an AIDS Free Generation.
- 1920: It is widely believed that HIV originated in Kinshasa, in the Democratic Republic of Congo around 1920 when HIV crossed species from chimpanzees to humans.
- 1970’s: It wasn’t realized until the eighties, but researchers discovered that HIV came to the US in the 1970’s but went undetected by doctors for years.
- 1980’s: Gaëtan Dugas is identified as “Patient Zero,” the man who supposedly introduced AIDS to the United States as a French-Canadian flight attendant. While we now know he is not actually the first case of AIDS in the US, he was one of the earlier cases that the country identified. Dugas is important because he was blamed for bringing HIV to the United States until research disproved this theory in 2016. In fact, in 1987, the National Review referred to him as the “Columbus of AIDS,” and the New York Post called him “the man who gave us AIDS” on its front page.
- September 1982: The CDC uses the term ‘AIDS’ (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) for the first time and releases the first case definition for AIDS. This is important to note, because in the past, a group of cases among gay men in Southern California suggested that the cause of the immune deficiency was sexual and the syndrome was initially called gay-related immune deficiency (or GRID).
- January 7th, 1983: First report of AIDS in female sexual partners of males with AIDS. The CDC also establishes the National AIDS Hotline to respond to public inquiries about the disease.
- June 1983: The first reports of AIDS in children. It was hinted that it could be passed via casual contact but this was later ruled out and it was concluded that they had probably directly acquired AIDS from their mothers before, during, or shortly after birth.
- September 1983: By September, the CDC identified all major routes of transmission and ruled out transmission by casual contact, food, water, air or surfaces. They identified the five ways HIV could be transmitted: semen, vaginal fluid, rectal fluid, breast milk, and blood.
- March 1984: A Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study tracked the sexual liaisons and practices of gay and bisexual men, especially in California and New York. Dugas was then code-named as “patient O” (pronounced “oh”, and standing for “Out-of-California”); misconstruing of the letter “O” as 0 (zero), which led to the origin of the term “patient zero.”
- July 1984: Needle-sharing is confirmed as a transmission method. CDC states that avoiding injection drug use and reducing needle-sharing “should also be effective in preventing transmissions of the virus.”
- January 11th, 1985: Revised AIDS case definition notes that AIDS is caused by HIV. Blood screening guidelines are issued for donated blood and plasma.
- March 1985: The U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA) licensed the first commercial blood test, ELISA, to detect antibodies to the virus. Blood banks began to screen the USA blood supply.
- October 22nd, 1986: Surgeon General, C. Everett Koop, issues the Surgeon General’s Report on AIDS. The report makes it clear that HIV cannot be spread casually and calls for a nationwide education campaign (including early sex education in schools), increased use of condoms, and voluntary HIV testing.
- 1987: In August, CDC holds the first national conference on HIV and Communities of Color in New York. On August 14th, CDC issues Perspectives in Disease Prevention and Health Promotion: Public Health Service Guidelines for Counseling and Antibody Testing to Prevent HIV Infections and AIDS. Later in 1987, CDC launches first AIDS-related public service announcement, “America Responds to AIDS.” Shortly after, the CDC expands its work in Africa significantly.
- 1988: The brochure “Understanding AIDS” is sent to every household in the US — 107 million copies in all.
- 1988: UCLA AIDS Institute and Center for AIDS Research was established. This leading team of researchers has made many critical discoveries surrounding the disease. In fact, the first case of HIV/AIDs is noted to have been discovered right here at UCLA.
- 1988: The Pediatric AIDS Foundation was founded to give hope to children and families affected by HIV and AIDS (The organization later changed its name to the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation). EGPAF is now one of the most globally influential non-profits dedicated to HIV/AIDS prevention, education and research; it is also PAC’s primary beneficiary.
- 1996: The Joint United Nations Programme on AIDS (UNAIDS) was established to advocate for global action on the epidemic and coordinate the response to HIV and AIDS across the UN. UNAIDS also launched the ambitious 90–90–90 targets which aim for 90% of people living with HIV to be diagnosed, 90% of those diagnosed to be accessing antiretroviral treatment and 90% of those accessing treatment to achieve viral suppression by 2020.
- August 1998: Camp Kindle was founded- a summer camp, which would offer children infected or affected by HIV and AIDS the chance to be accepted, find hope and friendship along with developing their knowledge of wellness and personal strengths. Camp Kindle is now one of PAC’s financial beneficiaries.
- 2003: President George W. Bush announced the creation of the United States President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), a $15 billion, five-year plan to combat AIDS, primarily targeting countries with a high number of HIV infections.
- 2007: The CDC reports that over 562,000 people have died of AIDS in the US since 1981.
- 2007–2008: Timothy Brown, also known as “the Berlin Patient,” is the first and only person to have ever been cured of HIV. After unsuccessful chemotherapy for leukemia, Brown was required to receive a stem cell transplant to treat the cancer. Because his donor happened to be naturally immune to HIV, after a second transplant, Brown’s doctors could no longer find any HIV in his body. To this day, Brown remains the only person who is considered to have achieved a sterilizing cure, meaning he no longer has the HIV virus in his body.
- 2009: President Obama removed the travel ban that prevented HIV positive people from entering the US. The Department of Health & Human Services and CDC remove HIV infection from the list of diseases that prevent non-US citizens from entering the country.
- 2011: In August, the CDC releases a new HIV rate estimate in the US. The annual number of new HIV infections in the United States was relatively stable at approximately 50,000 new infections each year between 2006 and 2009. In November, the CDC’s Vital Signs shows that of the 1.2 million people living with HIV, 1 in 5 do not know they are infected and that only 1 in 4 of those infected are taking HIV medicines regularly and have their virus under control. Treatment of HIV is also shown to reduce transmission by nearly 96%.
- 2014: On May 14th, the CDC releases new clinical guidelines recommending that healthcare providers consider pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) for patients at substantial risk for HIV. In July, CDC announced the annual HIV diagnosis rate declined by 30% from 2002–2011.
- 2015: UNAIDS releases their fourth annual report on the Global Plan towards the elimination of new HIV infections among children and keeping their mothers alive. The report shows that there is a 48% decrease in the number of new HIV pediatric infections between 2009 and 2014. The report also shows that 8 out of 10 pregnant women living with HIV received antiretroviral medicines to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV.
- September 27th, 2017: The CDC officially releases a letter that reflects the fact that there have not been any linked infections observed in studies among thousands of sexually active couples, one partner being HIV+, engaging in female-male and male-male sex without a condom or PrEP while the HIV+ partner is virally suppressed. If HIV+ individuals take the correct medication, they will not transmit HIV to their partner.
While these are just 26 of the most important dates in the history of the AIDS pandemic, HIV/AIDS is still current a very relevant problem across the globe. It is believed that 36.7 million people are living with HIV/AIDS right now and, while the number has significantly decreased in the last decade, 400 children still become infected with HIV every day despite these infections being 100% preventable. While this number might seem high, the progress that has been made, as the timeline above shows, has been remarkable. AIDS-related deaths have fallen by 48% since the peak in 2005. As of June 2017, 20.9 million people living with HIV were accessing antiretroviral therapy, up from 17.1 million in 2015 and 7.7 million in 2010. In 2016, 53% of all people worldwide living with HIV had access to treatment. While there currently is no cure for HIV, effective antiretroviral drugs can control the virus and help prevent transmission so that people with HIV, and those at high risk, can enjoy healthy, long, and productive lives. There has been so much progress made, but there is still work to do.
“When there’s a cure, we dance for joy. Until then, we dance for life”
Written by Lucy Mullin