AIDS 2012Thirty years ago, when the first recorded outbreaks of AIDS occurred, the world knew next to nothing about the disease. Speculation about the disease sparked paranoia, leading to doctors refusing to treat patients for fear of being infected themselves and views of the disease as a “punishment” on humanity; those diagnosed with AIDS effectively became pariahs. Some early dates in the history of HIV/AIDS:

  •  The disease was first introduced by the public in 1981, with an outbreak of rare diseases among young gay men in New York and California.
  • The retrovirus responsible for AIDS was identified as HIV in 1983.
  • The first HIV test kit was created in 1985, making it possible to detect HIV in blood donations and patients.
  • The first International AIDS Conference was held in Atlanta, Georgia in 1985.
  • The first treatment for HIV/AIDS, AZT, was created in 1986. (Source)

Late last month, the 19th International AIDS conference was held in Washington, D.C., the first conference held on American soil in 22 years (the last being San Francisco, California in 1990). In the two decades since, significant headway has been made towards understanding and combating the epidemic. With developments such as at home HIV test kits , new antiretroviral medications, combination therapies, discovery of AIDS resistant genetic mutations , and the recent unveiling of three seemingly cured patients, the 19th International AIDS Conference was met with high hopes, tossing around slogans such as “AIDS Free Generation” and “The Beginning of the End to this Epidemic”. With more than 3,000 scientific abstracts being presented at the conference, attendees seemed determined to make this year a turning point in the history of the disease.

“Now is not the time for easing up, slowing down, or shifting our focus,” said U.S. Secretary of Health of Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius. “If we are going to reach our ultimate goal of an AIDS-free generation, we must all challenge ourselves to do more – to reach even more people, to make programs even more effective and accountable, to push the boundaries of science even further.”

The five-day conference was teeming with scientists presenting breakthroughs and new studies, activists determined to raise funds and support for the fight against AIDS, and officials seeking to educate and inspire the public on the disease. However, with numbers of people infected climbing from 1 million to 35 million worldwide in the past 30 years, one message was clear: eradication requires a global effort.