HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is a disease that attacks the immune system. HIV can develop into AIDS, which stands for Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome. AIDS weakens the immune system so severely that other infections become deadly. Currently, there is no cure for HIV/AIDS. However, when treatment can be obtained and used properly, the development of HIV into AIDS can be slowed dramatically. Moreover, treatment can improve both the quality and length of life of those living with HIV/ AIDS. People who are HIV-positive can live long and happy lives. The prognosis of someone living with HIV/AIDS is significantly better today than it was in the 1990s or 1980s.
When was HIV/AIDS discovered?
AIDS was recognized as a new disease on June 5th, 1981. This date is not when AIDS came into existence, but rather it is when the medical community became aware of the disease when doctors noticed that breakouts of diseases like Kaposi’s Sarcoma were affecting otherwise healthy gay men. In early classifications of AIDS, it was called Gay-Related Immunodeficiency (GRID). This early naming of the disease speaks to the pervasive stigma of AIDS as a “gay” or “homosexual disease”. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) first used the term Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) in 1982, which became the accepted term for the disease.
How did the medical community address the AIDS epidemic?
In the earliest years of the AIDS epidemic, the disease was not well understood by the medical community or the public. Along with fear and stigma surrounding the disease, there was confusion on how people got AIDS and who could get AIDS. People described AIDS as a “gay cancer” and wrongly assumed that it only posed a risk to LGBTQ+ people. In 1983, it became known that AIDS could also be transmitted through heterosexual sex. By the end of 1983, the CDC was able to identify the main ways people got AIDS. They were also able to rule out casual contact, food, air, water and environment as ways for a person to get AIDS. Despite medical authorities beginning to understand what HIV/AIDS was and how it is transmitted, the public, community leaders, government officials, and politicians lagged in understanding and empathy.
How did people initially come to terms with AIDS?
The beginning years of the AIDS epidemic cannot be separated from the prejudice and discrimination that LGBTQ+ members of our society experienced. This is seen through the initial uses of terms like “gay cancer” or Gay-Related Immunodeficiency (GRID) to describe the disease. Furthermore, the United States government’s initial response to the AIDS epidemic was not sufficient. The AIDS epidemic started during the Reagan administration, an era of conservatism and budget cuts for organizations like the Centers for Disease Control. Significant funding for a response to the AIDS epidemic was not granted by the United States government until 1987, six years after the disease was first recognized by physicians.
What improvements have been made since 1981?
The first commercial blood test for HIV/AIDS was developed in 1985 and named ELISA. This allowed for HIV testing to be administered in more places for more people. AZT, an antiretroviral treatment for HIV, was approved by the FDA in 1987. The National Commission on AIDS was created in 1989. In 1990,