History of AIDS, then and now

World AIDS day is observed each year on Dec. 1.

This year, perhaps it can be a day for more awareness of the global crisis, and the local challenges in fighting the spread of HIV/AIDS, perhaps the tide of apathy and ignorance can be reversed.

On June 5, 1981 the Centers for Disease Control released a report documenting five cases of pneumocystis pneumonia in previously healthy men in Los Angeles.

They were each described as homosexuals.  Two had already died.

Clinicians in the U.S. submitted reports of similar cases and by the end of the year the CDC had 270 cases of severe immune deficiency in gay men.

One-hundred and twenty-one of them had already died.

Then doctors began to diagnose AIDS in transplant and blood transfusion patients, intravenous drug users, Haitians, then heterosexual women and their newborns.

The terror was palpable that this disease could kill everyone.

It wasn’t until about 1984 that scientists identified the modes of transmission, and the general public learned how to protect themselves.

It was this time when America’s blood supply became protected so transfusion and transplant patients no longer needed to fear infection.

In the last two decades of the 20th century the fear was stark, visible, and ever present.

It could not be avoided.

But since 2000, the scourge of HIV/AIDS seems all but forgotten, and this is leading to apathy in this country, especially in the case of college-aged people.

Approximately 1.1 million Americans are living with HIV, while nearly 1 in 5 of them do not know they are infected, according to the CDC. The most recent data show that individuals between the ages of 13-29 account for 39 percent of new infections.

Poverty, ethnicity and age continue be factors in infection rates for American gay and bisexual men, as well a women, according to current information from Advocates for Youth.

Access to condoms, proper use, and willingness to use them still continues to be a problem for young people, according to an October 2013 position statement released by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Progress continues to be made toward developing a vaccine and a functional cure, to put this epidemic behind us, as we have with smallpox and polio.

It is undeniable that efforts to prevent AIDS in the U.S. have greatly stemmed the tide domestically.

But transmission of HIV and other STD’s continues to kill young people at a higher rate than other groups.  This is simply unacceptable.

Individuals must learn to be good self-advocates, protecting their own health and that of their partners by seeking factual, candid information and sharing it with friends.

Young people are armed with unprecedented power to create significant social change, through social media and face-to-face.

It is time to use the tools at hand to save lives, to prevent HIV/AIDS.