A Brief History of HIV/AIDS


  • June 5: The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports five cases of Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia (PCP), a rare lung infection, in young gay men in Los Angeles. Several men had died by the time the report was published. This led to the term “gay cancer” in the media.


  • September 1: Community-based clinics are established in New York City and San Francisco to address the health and social needs of those getting sick. Initially called gay-related immunodeficiency (GRID), the illness is later recognized in injection drug users and people receiving blood transfusions.


  • The CDC’s Task Force concludes that AIDS is a bloodborne infectious disease spread through sex, sharing needles, and blood transfusions. They find no evidence of transmission via casual contact, food, water, or environmental surfaces. The Women's AIDS Network is established, and female sexual partners of men with AIDS are identified as a risk group.


  • Researchers at the Pasteur Institute in France and the Institute of Human Virology at the University of Maryland identify the virus that causes AIDS, later named human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in 1986.


  • The FDA approves the first test to screen for HIV antibodies, and blood banks begin screening the blood supply. Ryan White becomes a national figure and HIV spokesperson when his Indiana middle school bars him from attending.


  • AZT becomes the first drug approved to treat HIV, and Congress allocates $30 million to help cover costs for those who cannot afford it. The Helms Amendment prevents federal funds from being used to promote homosexual activities, impacting CDC efforts targeting affected communities.


  • U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop sends a report to over 100 million households encouraging condom use and honest discussions about AIDS. The first needle exchange programs are set up in Tacoma, WA, and San Francisco, CA, to prevent HIV infections.


  • Over 100,000 AIDS-related deaths are reported. Sisterlove, Inc., is founded in Georgia to focus on women living with and at risk for HIV.


  • April 18: Ryan White dies. Later that year, Congress passes the Ryan White CARE Act, providing millions for HIV/AIDS care. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is also passed, prohibiting discrimination against people living with HIV.


  • Congress passes the Housing Opportunities for People Living with AIDS Act (HOPWA), providing funds for housing. Magic Johnson discloses his HIV status, and Freddy Mercury, lead singer of Queen, dies from AIDS-related causes.


  • U.S. tennis legend Arthur Ashe dies from AIDS-related causes. The CDC updates the AIDS definition to include more illnesses specific to women and injection drug users.


  • The FDA approves the first oral HIV antibody test. Pedro Zamora, an openly HIV-positive and gay person, appears on MTV’s “The Real World” and dies from AIDS-related causes later that year.


  • The FDA approves protease inhibitors, revolutionizing HIV treatment. Rapper Eazy-E dies from AIDS-related causes, and by year’s end, 500,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with HIV.


  • Combinations of antiretroviral therapy (ART) become the standard treatment. AIDS is no longer the leading cause of death for those aged 25-44, except among African Americans. The number of new cases drops for the first time since 1981. The AIDS Memorial Quilt is displayed with all 38,000 panels.


  • AIDS-related deaths drop by 47%. UNAIDS estimates 30 million people are living with HIV, and 16,000 new infections occur daily.


  • The CDC reports African Americans account for 49% of AIDS-related deaths. AIDS deaths among African Americans are almost 10 times that of Whites and three times that of Hispanics, prompting the Congressional Black Caucus to declare HIV/AIDS a “State of Emergency.”


  • President Bush creates the President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), a $15 billion, 5-year plan to combat AIDS in high-burden countries.


  • Over 565,000 AIDS-related deaths are reported in the U.S.


  • President Obama announces the lifting of the HIV travel and immigration ban, effective January 2010.


  • The Obama Administration releases the first comprehensive National HIV/AIDS Strategy, aiming to reduce HIV infections, increase access to care, address health disparities, and improve coordination of efforts.


  • The HPTN 052 trial shows that early initiation of ART reduces HIV transmission by 96% among discordant couples.


  • UNAIDS reports a 30% global decrease in AIDS-related deaths since their peak in 2005.


  • June 30: Cuba becomes the first country to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV and syphilis. The Obama Administration updates the National HIV/AIDS Strategy to 2020, setting new goals including 90% of those infected knowing their status, reducing new infections by 25%, linking 85% of newly diagnosed people to care within a month, and achieving viral suppression.


  • National HIV/AIDS Strategy: The Obama Administration updates the National HIV/AIDS Strategy through 2020, setting new goals such as ensuring 90% of those infected know their status, reducing new infections by 25%, and linking 85% of newly diagnosed individuals to care within a month.


  • HPTN 083 Study Begins: This study aims to evaluate the efficacy of long-acting injectable antiretroviral drugs for HIV prevention compared to daily oral PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis).


  • UNAIDS 90-90-90 Targets: Global efforts continue to reach UNAIDS' ambitious 90-90-90 targets: 90% of all people living with HIV will know their HIV status, 90% of all people with diagnosed HIV infection will receive sustained antiretroviral therapy, and 90% of all people receiving antiretroviral therapy will have viral suppression.


  • President's Initiative: The U.S. launches a plan to end the HIV epidemic by 2030. The initiative focuses on four key strategies: diagnose, treat, protect, and respond.


  • COVID-19 Impact: The COVID-19 pandemic affects HIV services worldwide, disrupting prevention, treatment, and support services. However, innovative solutions like telemedicine help mitigate some impacts.


  • HPTN 084 Study Results: Results from the HPTN 084 study show that long-acting injectable cabotegravir is highly effective in preventing HIV among women, offering a new prevention option.


  • Dovato Approval: The FDA approves Dovato, a single-tablet regimen for HIV treatment that includes dolutegravir and lamivudine, simplifying treatment for many individuals.


  • PEPFAR's 20th Anniversary: The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) celebrates 20 years of significant contributions to global HIV/AIDS efforts, saving millions of lives through comprehensive HIV services.


  • Innovations in Treatment and Prevention: Ongoing research and advancements continue to improve HIV treatment and prevention strategies. New long-acting antiretroviral treatments and innovations in PrEP are being integrated into healthcare systems to enhance access and adherence.

These milestones reflect the continuous progress in HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment, and care, driven by global cooperation and scientific advancements​ (Frontiers)​​ (TIHAN)​​ (Fortune Online)​​ (Brill)​​ (Southern African Development Community)​.

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