The HIV/AIDS Epidemic
The HIV/AIDS epidemic emerged in the early 1980s, as scientists and doctors identified and began to understand a new and deadly virus that caused a rare and aggressive immune system disorder, affecting people across the globe.
In 1981, doctors in the United States observed a cluster of rare diseases, such as Kaposi’s sarcoma and Pneumocystis pneumonia, in young, otherwise healthy gay men. These unusual cases led the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to publish a report on June 5, 1981, marking the official beginning of the recognition of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. In 1982, the CDC coined the term “Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome” (AIDS) to describe the condition.
By 1983, researchers from the Pasteur Institute in France, led by Dr. Luc Montagnier, and the National Cancer Institute in the United States, led by Dr. Robert Gallo, independently discovered the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) as the cause of AIDS. The French team published their findings in the journal Science in May 1983, and the American team followed suit in 1984. Eventually, it was agreed that the French team had made the initial discovery, and the virus was named HIV.
During 1983, the number of reported AIDS cases increased dramatically, with the disease affecting not only gay men but also intravenous drug users, hemophiliacs, and heterosexual individuals. The realization that HIV could be transmitted through blood transfusions led to the implementation of screening processes in blood banks to protect the blood supply.
As the epidemic spread, fear and stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS grew, fueled by misconceptions about the disease and how it was transmitted. In response to the mounting crisis, public health campaigns were launched to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS, promote safe sex practices, and educate people on how to prevent the spread of the virus.
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, scientists and researchers worked tirelessly to develop treatments for HIV/AIDS. The first antiretroviral drug, AZT, was approved for use in 1987, and by the mid-1990s, the introduction of highly active antiretroviral therapy (HAART) led to a significant decline in AIDS-related deaths in countries where these treatments were accessible.
The HIV/AIDS epidemic profoundly impacted global public health, prompting the establishment of organizations like the World Health Organization’s Global Programme on AIDS and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) to combat the disease. Although significant progress has been made in HIV/AIDS research and treatment, the epidemic continues to be a major public health challenge, particularly in low- and middle-income countries with limited access to lifesaving antiretroviral therapies.