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The History of the HIV/AIDS Epidemic

By: Nathan Fry, Contributing Writer

Edited by: Olivia Storti, Editor; Eve Nevelos, Editor in Chief


HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that has been tangled with the gay community since it’s official arrival in 1959, through the HIV epidemic of 1981, til today, a modern era with promising breakthroughs in helping individuals suffering with HIV and AIDS. Even today, 69% of new HIV cases are identified with MSM, or men who have sex with men. With the roots of gay culture buried alongside this virus, it is imperative that it is remembered, as thousands of people lost their lives, leaving an indelible mark on the rest of society and those living with this immunodeficiency virus.


HIV is a virus that attacks your body’s immune system, typically in three stages, the third being AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome). AIDS is the umbrella term to describe the multiple potentially life-threatening illnesses brought on when your immune system is severely damaged by the HIV virus.


Below is a timeline showing some of the key events in treatment options, awareness campaigns and general events.


  • 1959: The first official case of HIV. In 1986, analysis of frozen blood samples from a plethora of African countries led to the first official case of HIV in the Democratic Republic of Congo, three decades after its collection. Although this is not by far the first case, it is the first verified case diagnosed with corroborative blood.


  • 1981: The first diagnosis of AIDS in the UK. An American medical journal documented an unknown illness that killed five men in Los Angeles. This is the first official documentation of what was then classed as AIDS in the following December. This led to the first diagnosed case of AIDS in the UK.


  • 1981: The HIV Epidemic.


  • 1984 - 1997: Project SIDA. Project SIDA was a research project, founded by the US and Belgium. This research had imperative impacts on the understanding of HIV and AIDS, including how it is transmitted by bodily fluids (including blood transfusions), and how that it could affect anyone and everyone!


  • 1987: Princess Diana’s handshake with an openly HIV-positive person. Despite the awareness being broadcasted by the UK and beyond, there was still a major stigma against touching people with HIV or AIDS. HIV is transmitted through blood, semen, pre-seminal fluid, rectal fluids, vaginal fluids, and breast milk, not via touching, kissing, or standing next to someone with HIV/AIDS. Princess Diana helped shift this stigma by shaking hands with a man who was open about being HIV-positive, teaching how people with HIV are still people and need to be treated with the same respect and compassion.


  • 1990: A storyline of an HIV-positive character is featured on Eastenders. Mark Fowler, a fictional character in the BBC soap opera EastEnders, there from episode one as a teenager, made a return as a 22-year-old man when it was revealed that he was diagnosed with HIV. This was the first real push for HIV and gay culture to be presented on TV.


  • 1991: Thailand’s “no condom; no sex” campaign. This campaign and slogan are arguably the most effective government-run programmes for HIV awareness. HIV in Thailand was widely spread around by sex workers - some statistics show up to 97%. Their combat to this was to ensure people were using condoms to regulate exposure, including handing out free condoms, with condom use going from 15% to 90% in 1996.


  • 1991: Freddie Mercury dies. On the 24th of November, 1991, Freddie Mercury, arguably one of the most famous people diagnosed with HIV and AIDS, died of AIDS-induced bronchopneumonia. That year, word outbroke, first creating the international bond between the red ribbon and HIV / AIDS, which at the time killed more 25 - 44 year olds than any other condition.


  • 1996: HAART Treatment is introduced. HAART Treatment (or Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy) was one of the few effective, working treatment options for people with exposure to or diagnosis of HIV at the time. This new treatment option was very promising, giving people with HIV an increased average lifespan of + 15 years.


  • 1998: Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) first founded in South Africa. TAC, one of the most important international voices advocating for the awareness of HIV prevention and the different treatment options, stood to challenge the view that HIV was a death sentence, and faced pharmaceutical companies to make a change in the production and prices of their treatment options.


  • 2006: HIV/AIDS Pandemic. HIV is finally declared as a pandemic, inducing more pharmaceutical companies to proceed in research towards HIV prevention strategies, and governments to grant and fund said research.


  • 2010: PrEP first proved to provide efficient protection against HIV. PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) was first used in a trial, inevitably proving that it all-in-all lowered the infection rate of HIV by 44%, or daily use decreased the infection rate by 73%.


  • 2015: WHO guidelines are updated to give advice to anyone with exposure to HIV. The World Health Organization updated their guidelines to suggest that anyone infected or exposed to HIV should get diagnosed and begin antiretroviral treatment as quickly as possible in order to keep people with HIV living healthier and reduce the risk of transmission to other people. As of June 2016, 18 million people plus had access to life-saving antiretroviral treatment.


  • 2017: PrEP trials in the UK begin. In August, it was announced that PrEP would be available as form of a trial to over 10,000 people in the UK with partners who may be HIV-positive. Later that year, Public Health England (PHE) published figures which showed a significant decline in diagnoses of HIV in gay or bisexual men.


Research facilities continue to incubate new treatments for HIV and AIDS, bringing significant hope to those living and suffering with HIV or AIDS, as well as new cases in the future.


Link to cover image:

Princess Diana shaking the hand of an openly HIV-positive man.



Sources:


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