Reflecting on 40 years since first case of HIV/AIDS

While millions of lives have been saved to date, road ahead remains long as pursuit for cure continues.

June 5th, 2021 marked 40 years since the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a report on five healthy gay men aged 29-36 in Los Angeles who contracted a rare form of pneumonia, caused by Pneumocystis carinii. Their diagnoses were later identified as the first reported cases of the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). Fast-forward four decades and the disease has claimed more than 32 million lives globally. At present, 38 million people worldwide are living with the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) – the virus responsible for the disease. While new HIV infections fell by 37%, and HIV-related deaths fell by 45% between 2000 and 2018, the disease remains a key public health concern, especially for Africa which accounts for two-thirds of the disease's burden.

However, while there is no cure at present, notable progress has also been made in fighting the disease after the first antiretroviral drugs entered the fray in the late 1980s. Scientists globally have conducted detailed studies and descriptions of the molecular structure of HIV, and have used this knowledge to design complex antiretroviral therapies. Today, 67% of people living with HIV are receiving treatment and access to Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) to prevent transmission has also been widened. As a result, more than 13 million lives have also been saved to date, and many others have seen their quality of life improve. While the road ahead remains long, it is worth pausing and recognizing the progress made over the past forty years, along with the heroes that have led the fight from the front.