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International News

The 30 Years War: AIDS, a Tale of Tragedy and Hope

June 2, 2011

In the June 5, 1981, edition of CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, US scientists wrote about five young, formerly well gay men in Los Angeles who came down with pneumonia; two had died.

These were the first official fatalities in the AIDS epidemic, which has killed 30 million people in the three decades since. Upwards of 33 million more people are HIV-positive.

"AIDS has changed the world, without any doubt," Michel Sidibe, executive director of UNAIDS, said prior to the upcoming UN High Level Meeting on HIV/AIDS.

AIDS was initially referred to as the "gay plague," fueling trepidation, misinformation and homophobia. Soon it was discovered that the disease could spread through blood transfusions, heterosexual intercourse, and in utero. Gay groups rallied against stigma and for protected sex, and lobbied for resources to support studies.

In 1983, French physicians identified HIV as the virus causing AIDS, resulting in the development of tests to detect infection and segregate tainted blood. The discovery heightened optimism for finding a vaccine, but HIV's facility for mutation has thwarted these efforts.

However, 1996 saw the advent of access to the first effective HIV drugs. Efforts to secure the prohibitively expensive drugs for impoverished countries were led by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; President George W. Bush, who launched the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief; and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Although in excess of 5 million patients have been helped, 10 million more need therapy -- and that number will grow to 13 million by 2015, according to UNAIDS.

New developments give hope. Yet, "Unless there is a game-changer like a vaccine, there probably will still be 1 million new infections a year in 2031," said Peter Piot, director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Back to other news for June 2011

Adapted from:
Agence France Presse

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
See Also
20 Years of Magic: How One Man's HIV Disclosure Inspired Others
More on the 30th Anniversary of AIDS

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