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On World AIDS Day, a history of HIV

The term Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, or AIDS, wasn’t coined until the end of 1982 but was a serious problem for the previous decade.

The origin of HIV is still largely a mystery, however, it is thought that the virus was transferred to humans somewhere around 1930. The leading theory is that the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) has ancestral basis from the Simian Immunodeficiency Virus (SIV). How the virus was transferred is still unknown.

The 1970s marks the entrance of HIV, the virus that is now known to cause AIDS, into the United States. It was during this time that African physicians were noticing a large increase in opportunistic infections. Opportunistic infections are diseases such as tuberculosis or bacterial pneumonia. Otherwise, the rest of the world remained clueless to the epidemic lurking in the shadows.

It was not until 1981 that physicians in New York and California began to notice an increase of rare cancers and pneumonia. The first cases diagnosed were homosexual men and then injection drug users. During this time, many countries were starting to notice similar cases throughout Europe. As awareness of AIDS increased, children and non-drug using women were beginning to be diagnosed.

It wasn’t until 1984 when HIV was identified as the culprit for causing AIDS. It was during this time that scientists were getting an idea of how widespread the disease had become.

China marked the last country to find AIDS in its population, designating that AIDS was now a global problem. As this reality set in, tests to screen blood supplies for HIV were developed and the race for treatment began.

AZT was the first drug to be approved in the treatment of AIDS in 1987. World AIDS Day was established in 1988. At the start of the 1990s, an estimated 8 million people were living with HIV globally. Many countries, including Thailand, the U.S. and Uganda, all started HIV awareness and prevention programs. As research continued, AZT was shown to be beneficial for mother-to-child transmission prevention, but the drug did not benefit those who were in the early stages of HIV infection.

New treatments were being developed in the late 90’s that suddenly changed the fight against HIV. Annual spending on AIDS research and treatment was around $300 million globally in 1996. Combination antiretroviral treatment reached developed countries and, as a result, AIDS related deaths significantly declined. At the turn of the century, it was estimated that 22 million people were living with HIV worldwide. Treatments became more affordable, allowing wider access to HIV treatments on every continent.

Global spending on AIDS continued to increase to $8.9 billion as 33 million people were living with HIV. Early attempts at an effective HIV vaccine failed and many vaccine trials were ending prematurely as results repeatedly showed no benefits. In 2009, President Barack Obama removed the travel ban that did not allow HIV-positive travelers to enter the United States. As a result, many other countries lifted their travel bans.

In recent years, HIV treatments have become significantly more effective. This includes the “Berlin Patient,” who has been cured of HIV for five years. However, this treatment is not available for every person who is living with HIV. Currently, the PrEP drug is most effective at reducing HIV acquisition among men who have sex with men.

The most effective method of reducing HIV acquisition for everyone is being tested regularly. HIV experts suggest gay men who are sexually active be tested as often as every three months.

In honor of World AIDS Day, Lead the Way will be providing free HIV testing at Medical Center Pharmacy, 3904 Park Blvd., on Saturday, Dec. 1, from 10 am to 4 pm.